Sligo's shoes, African joy
Running shoes and football boots donated by hundreds of local school children have made a huge difference in Cape Town thanks to a Sligoman
"Your donation of boots made many children smile and brought joy to them through your acts of kindness"
"One of the community leaders broke out in tears when we told her of our delivery, as they have been plagued by gang violence over the last couple weeks".
These are just two of the quotes from volunteers working in poverty-stricken townships in Cape Town South Africa after delighted children this week received sports shoes donated by families in Sligo and surrounding areas.
The messages of thanks come on the culmination of the "In My Shoes" appeal which was spearheaded by Sligoman Ciaran McHugh.
Through the appeal, children and parents from 40 schools donated more than 2,500 pairs of 'preloved' football boots and sports shoes for shipment direct to kids in the poorest townships in South Africa earlier this year.
After being collected from the schools by Ciaran and his appeal helpers they were sorted, packed and prepared for shipping.
The cost of transport of the large cargo on the 14,133 km journey from Sligo to Cape Town was covered by Ciaran's employers White Calling.
After being cleared through Customs in Cape Town the complicated operation of distribution to the most needy children began.
This was handled by volunteers from the Wynberg Boys' High School soccer teams - one of the oldest and most prestigious schools in South Africa, in conjunction with the Gary Kirsten Foundation. The foundation is a non-profit sports organisation creating sporting ecosystems and healthy alternatives for youth in township communities.
Members of soccer teams from Wynberg school went on a "service drive" last weekend distributing the boots to the poor communities in the surrounding areas.
Led by school vice-principal Roland Rudd the teams were elated by the welcome they received. In a letter to appeal organiser Ciaran McHugh the vice-principal said: "These communities are of the poorest and your donation of boots made many children smile and brought joy to them through your acts of kindness.
"Have spoken with one of the community leaders, she broke out in tears when we told her of our delivery, as they have been plagued by gang violence over the last couple weeks.
Mr. Rudd said distribution of the last of the shoes will require a police escort to secure their safe delivery. He said: "We have also targeted going into Blikkies
Dorp informal settlement in the next couple of weeks but we will require a police escort to get into the area. We are currently working on plans to make this possible".
He said that letters written by Sligo children and sent with the shoes were very fitting. "The kids this side were so surprised to read a letter from someone they did not know, and from a country the never heard of, but who cared enough to send them a letter along with a pair of boots".
Looking to the future, Mr. Rudd appealed for the Sligo initiative to become an annual event. "Your donation made an impact, and what is very clear is that so much more needs to be done for these communities.
"I would like to appeal to you and your organisation to continue supporting these communities on a yearly basis so that we can continue to grow and impact so many more lives".
The head of the other organisation involved in the distribution to the Townships, the Gary Kirsten Foundation also thanked Ciaran McHugh and the Sligo children.
Gary Kirsten said: "We are incredibly grateful for the incredible 'In My Shoes' campaign. Myself and the team were absolutely amazed when this massive shipment arrived - we even had to arrange a completely new storage unit to fit all of them in".
Ciaran (pictured right with the shoes before they were sent from Sligo) thanked all who supported the donation from Sligo. The Ransboro native and Carney resident said:"The support we have received from schools, teachers, students and parents alike has been overwhelming. Working together you have made a real difference".
Echoing Mr. Rudd's wishes to make it an annual event Ciaran said: "The focus now switches to the next campaign in January 2020. The new target will be 5,000 pairs of football boots and trainers. It looks like 'In My Shoes' in just finding its stride".
Ciaran recalled how he was moved to start the campaign.
"It all started after a work trip to Cape Town in autumn last year. After seeing poverty stricken children playing barefoot on rough gravel a plan was hatched to see if we could manage to collect 500 pairs of pre-loved sports shoes in Sligo and ship them to the kids in the Townships".
With a fantastic response from Sligo schools the dream of 500 pairs grew to more than 2,500 pairs.
At the start of the appeal Ciaran wrote: "Over four million children in South Africa live in poverty. Descriptions of South African Townships range from 'poverty-ridden' and 'destitute' to the 'heartbeat' and 'hidden jewels' of the country.
"When I visited Khayelitsha (the largest Township in Cape Town) in November I was both amazed by the scale and conditions of the settlement but also the attitude and resilience of its inhabitants, especially the children.
"I was visiting with my work who sponsor a local charity there called the Gary Kirsten Foundation, whose aim is to introduce sports to the schools in the townships as an outlet for township children.
Where kids are known to join gangs from the ages of 12 or 13, this is a fantastic initiative as it gives them a level of one-on-one engagement which they may not receive elsewhere".
"The school we visited in Khayelitsha had 1,500 pupils, all happily running around the yard during break in their uniforms.
"Standing there watching them a number of thoughts struck me; firstly, that most of the children had no shoes on
"I would definitely want my kids wearing shoes. I could also visualise a box in our attic full of shoes which our kids had outgrown but where still in good condition".
And so the appeal was launched. Now that over 2500 pairs of shoes have been distributed Ciaran has thanked all involved.
"The support we have received from schools, teachers, students and parents alike has been overwhelming. Working together you have made a real difference. It's now very clear that giving even a little can mean so much.
"There were schools where Student Councils of six to 12 year olds ran the entire campaign in their schools, from contacting parents, collecting, inspecting and bagging hundreds of shoes.
"This was all enabled by their teachers who want to empower them to work together for the benefit of others. Scores of lovely notes from kids in Sligo to the children in Cape Town were sent in the boxes.
"Storage units were donated for free in both Sligo and Cape Town, shipping boxes manufactured especially for the appeal without any charge.
"I received fantastic support from my employers, White Calling who funded all the costs of the campaign, including shipping".
Ciaran concluded: "Capetown might be 'only' 14,133 km away, but in many ways it is a different world for most of us"