Kassem loves school. As the sixth of eight children, his parents struggle just to feed and clothe him. Kassem would never have been able to afford his school fees if not for the help and motivation of a supportive neighbor.
Even though the neighbor moved away, taking his financial support with him, nine-year-old Kassem was determined to stay in school. While it’s a constant struggle for his parents to find the money for books and fees, now that Kassem has a taste of learning it’s impossible to keep him away.
“Unlike many other children who often want to skip school, Kassem tries his best to attend,” says Kassem’s teacher, Charles Jatta. “Even if we send him home when he can’t afford his school fees, he sneaks back into class. That’s how dedicated and committed he is.”
Like many children in rural Gambia, Kassem walks a long distance to school each day. He makes the trip barefoot. His parents can barely afford food for the family, and after paying Kassem’s school fees, there is nothing left for basic necessities like shoes.
“I used to have slippers, but they are full of holes,” says Kassem. “I patched them for a long time, but they’re so old I can’t use them anymore.”
ADRA is hard at work in Gambia, focusing on children like Kassem. Literacy rates are below 50 percent, and preventable diseases and parasites are particularly deadly to children.
To fight these problems, ADRA recently installed clean water and sanitation facilities at Kassem’s school. A safe water source means lower rates of waterborne diseases, such as typhoid, and leads to increased school attendance.
Along with these improvements, ADRA distributed another basic necessity—shoes. Through a partnership with TOMS Shoes, ADRA is distributing sturdy canvas footwear to schoolchildren in Gambia and around the world.
TOMS pioneered the One for One® model, giving a pair of new shoes to a child in need with every pair they sell. ADRA is proud to be a TOMS Giving Partner. Since April 2012, ADRA has already distributed TOMS’ shoes to grateful children in 12 countries. Kassem was one of the first.
“When ADRA gave me these TOMS shoes, it made me very happy,” says Kassem. “My mother will also be happy, because every day I ask her to buy me shoes and she says she doesn’t have the money.”
Shoes protect children from dangerous parasites such as hookworm, tungiasis, and other conditions. With sturdy shoes on their feet, children are also more likely to make the long walk to school each day.
Kassem vows to continue attending school and dreams of being a doctor someday. ADRA knows that educating children like Kassem is essential to breaking the cycle of poverty. Educated, healthy children have the tools to achieve their dreams and support their future families.
ADRA’s mission is to provide care and service to the poor and suffering in this world, but our work touches more than just physical needs. By reaching out with unconditional love and compassion, ADRA fulfills its mission of “changing the world, one life at a time.”
Matt Herzel is a technical assistant for Constituency Development at ADRA International in Silver Spring, Maryland.
The Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) is the global humanitarian organization of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. ADRA is fighting poverty and developing communities in more than 120 countries around the world. We represent the unconditional love of Jesus to children, women, and men through a broad spectrum of development and emergency relief programs. Visit us at www.adra.org.
In 2006, American traveler Blake Mycoskie befriended children in a village in Argentina and found they had no shoes to protect their feet. Wanting to help, he created TOMS Shoes, a company that would match every pair of shoes purchased with a pair of new shoes given to a child in need—One for One®. Since then, TOMS has evolved from a shoe company to the One for One company, and is now addressing an entirely new need around the world in addition to shoes through eyewear.
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Centers of influence are currently being established in cities around the world.
If you keep your eyes on the goal, which is to serve others wherever you are, you will know for certain that you have left a positive impact on the world around you.