By Bill Guy
Escondido High School French class students of Escondido Secondary Teachers Association member Janice Mulder pose with the 400 pairs of shoes they collected for distribution to earthquake survivors in Haiti.
A group of Escondido High School French class students figuratively walked a mile in the shoes of Haitians last semester, inspired by Student CTA member and student teacher Courtney Woods-Ziani and Escondido Secondary Teachers Association member and master teacher Janice Mulder.
Hundreds of Haitians are now literally walking in new shoes collected and donated by the California students in response to the devastating earthquake that struck the Caribbean island last year.
“One of my goals as an aspiring French teacher was to develop a global outreach project,” says Woods-Ziani, CTA’s student liaison to the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing and now a candidate for a master’s in French at SDSU. “It was my hope to engage students in a social justice project while also teaching the language and culture of a Francophone country.”
While reading a magazine article about the positive impact just a pair of shoes can have on a person living in a developing country, Woods-Ziani was inspired to create “Sandals for the Soul,” a project in which she and her high school students collected footwear for persons living in displacement camps in Haiti.
“This became the perfect vehicle for helping the students make a positive impact in the lives of hundreds of Haitian people by providing them the footwear necessary to prevent disease, improve their quality of life, enhance hygiene, advance opportunities for migration and enable children to go to school,” says Woods-Ziani. “All while providing them opportunities to better understand Haiti’s language and culture.”
After doubling their original goal of collecting 200 pairs of shoes, Woods-Ziani and her students were making plans to ship the 400 pairs of footwear to Haiti. Then a volunteer church group that was already planning to take supplies to the island offered to transport the shoes for them. “We were delighted to have surpassed our goal by collecting such a large number of shoes,” says Woods-Ziani, “but even more excited by being able to deliver them free of charge, enabling us to purchase additional shoes for a future delivery.”
Upon their arrival in Haiti, the American volunteers delivered the shoes to residents of a refugee camp, Camp Abraham. They had enough to give every man, woman and child in the facility at least one new pair.
“When we saw photos of our shoes being distributed, we were so gratified to see the fruits of our efforts,” says Woods-Ziani. “The students were amazed at how such a seemingly small gesture could make such a huge impact in the lives of these Haitian people. For me personally, it certainly reinforced the ‘Power of One,’ the idea that even a single person can achieve something worthwhile.”
Although Woods-Ziani has finished her student teaching in Escondido, master teacher Janice Mulder and the EHS French students were so inspired by the project that it is continuing and has expanded to include donations from school clubs, sports teams and extracurricular groups. In addition, Woods-Ziani has set up a Facebook page, “Sandals for the Soul — Helping Haiti,” where people interested in participating can learn how.