An audio and video podcast of my trip hitchhiking around the world by sea.
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Posts from — February 2009

Tomorrow’s Shoes

“I just cried… People talk to me, and I cried. People say, ‘Oh Alejo, thank you very much,’ and I just cried… Now I see the documentary and I say, ‘How the hell could I cry so much?!’”

When you hear Alejo tell the story you can’t help but smile. Alejo was a professional polo player in Argentina, that is until he met Blake Mycoskie. Blake was an American between jobs and wanted to learn polo. When the two met, they quickly became friends. Together they conceived the idea of a shoe company, wherein for every pair of shoes purchased, a pair would be given to a child in need. 6 months later, Alejo was moved to tears, when surrounded by thousands of children, each with a new pair of shoes. He saw his dream come true. That was in 2006 and it was the beginning of TOMS Shoes.

TOMS Shoes (short for “Tomorrow’s Shoes”) was an idea born after Blake Mycoskie met a woman doing a shoe drive in South America. Inspired by one woman trying to make a difference and children with a basic need, Blake got the idea. Then the unlikely happened, he ran in to Alejo… again. Blake and Alejo had already met, became friends, and said good-bye not knowing if they would ever see each other again. Blake continued to Florianopolis, Brazil where he looked to learn to sail. Alejo without knowing, was also vacationing in Florianopolis. The two happened into the same bar, in the same hour, on the same day. Alejo convinced Blake to return to Argentina and stay with him, where the idea of TOMS Shoes fostered into reality.

When I contacted Alejo earlier in the year, I had no idea who he or TOMS Shoes was. I was just looking for a project to volunteer with in South America. A friend of a friend, who I met in the Dominican Republic, sent Alejo an email. Three months later I was in Buenos Aires, sitting at the desk of this energetic and barefooted twenty-something, as he introduced me to TOMS and mate, Argentina’s national drink. Over a highly caffeinated cup and a metal straw, he explained the story of TOMS, and how within two years the company had grown to 46 employees and had given away over to 200,000 pairs of shoes.

Then he introduced me to Pepe, his charismatic counterpart responsible for locating areas throughout Argentina where TOMS could donate shoes. We shared stories and I explained the vision of Immediately Pepe started brainstorming, thinking of places, schools, people that I might be able to help with. One place stuck out- a small, secluded school district where the need was great. He would contact the superintendent to offer help.

In the meantime, another opportunity unfolded. As we spoke, an international team of volunteers made their way to Argentina. It was time for the TOMS shoe drop. In two days a small group of people would gather from different parts of the world to help fulfill the vision of TOMS by distributing shoes to Argentine children. I was invited to help.

It amazes me how things can turn around. Three days earlier I walked frustrated streets and saw nothing but dead ends. Now my roads were open with opportunity. And on the same road I discovered are others inspired to serve, ordinary individuals driven to do extraordinary things.

February 17, 2009   6 Comments