Far away, close to home: The Shoe That Grows connects Nampa, Idaho to Gimbichu, Ethiopia
After 34 hours of travel and several lost bags in Frankfurt, the Herdegen family arrived in Addis Ababa, the capital and largest city of Ethiopia. There, they picked up 300 pairs of The Shoe That Grows, which were stored for them prior to their arrival. Scott recalls, “The boxes were the size of a couch.”
After exploring the city and reuniting with their luggage, Scott and Tarah Herdegen and their kids Chandler (16), Jack (14), and Tezeta (12) were on their way. The Herdegens had come to Ethiopia because their youngest daughter, Tezeta, was born in the kebele, or village, named Gimbichu. This trip, though, was also important for many people they didn’t know yet. During this trip, they would distribute 300 pairs of The Shoe That Grows to children in Gimbichu.
Months before the trip, the idea to distribute pairs of The Shoe That Grows came from a school assembly at Ridgevue High School, a high school in Southwest Idaho where Scott is a counselor. When Scott heard Kenton Lee, founder of Because International, speak to the students, he knew this project was something that could empower students and foster compassion. So Scott and the National Honor Society set the bar high: the school would raise funds for all 300 pairs of The Shoe That Grows during the fall semester.
While Tarah lined up funds and supplies for 157 water filters (her passion lies in the medical field), the shoes were already ordered, and the plan was set in motion. The Ridgevue National Honor Society made The Shoe That Grows fundraiser their yearly project, and put on a pizza party as an incentive for students. It was more personal for students than incentives, though. About students donating, Scott says, “If a high schooler knows one person is walking with shoes, they can sense the impact. It is tangible.”
Scott knew they could reach out to other networks in the community, but wanted this fundraising effort to be student-driven. As the National Honor Society president, Sophronia Brice, puts it, “One of the coolest things that I’ve discovered is how willing everyone is in our community and in our school to step up and to be part of something bigger than themselves.”
Once in Ethiopia, the Herdegen family went from Addis Ababa to Hosaena, a town of about 80,000. From there, they all crowded into a van atop boxes of shoes, hugging water filtration buckets, on their way to Gimbichu. With the road conditions, Scott recalls, “The drive from Hosaena to Gimbichu is about 30km but it took hours.”
When the Herdegen family thinks back to this March day in Gimbichu, they smile as they remember the chaos and excitement of distributing the shoes. Children flocked to the van, wanting to know what, and who, was inside. Schools had closed, and many kids followed the car as it pulled into Gimbichu.
That afternoon, leaders of the Orthodox Christian church called out names over the buzzing crowd to locate each of the children receiving a pair. The church had taken care to find many children in need of shoes, but there were still children awaiting nervously. Tarah says, “You know there is such a need, and that’s why there was such a dispersion.” The children waiting did not have a backup pair.
In all of the chaos of the shoe distribution, the Herdegens didn’t want to stay long and make a scene. As Tarah put it, “We wanted to come in and do what we could but we didn’t want to stop their production of life.”
Though they had to leave quickly during the distribution, Tarah keeps in touch with many people in Gimbichu and Hosaena. Members of the Hosaena healthcare community say they are seeing children wearing the shoes. The pairs of The Shoe That Grows and the water filtration systems that Tarah distributed will last for several years, but their impact on the health and well-being of the community will last even longer.
For the Herdegen family, the impact is lasting as well. Scott and Tarah want Chandler, Jack, and Tezeta to use this trip as a building block for creating change in their local and global community. Tarah says, “I hope our kids have learned that they can step out and do anything.”
The family talks about plans to return to Gimbichu with a medical team for a longer period of time. Right now, though, they encourage their children to get engaged in causes they are passionate about. “I think it would be really cool to help in any way I can,” Chandler says. He adds that the trip “definitely got me thinking of things I can do.”
Thinking about the expense of travel before taking the trip, Tarah and Scott often debated back and forth. They asked, “Is it better if we had just sent the money?” But after talking with encouraging friends in Ethiopia, they found an answer. Just as friends in Ethiopia were hugely generous of their time, the Herdegens were able to share their time by distributing the shoes face to face. “It is better to go and see the faces you are giving the shoes to,” Tarah concluded, “because you’re more likely to want to help … It changes who you are as a person.”
Photos courtesy of Bunce Photography and the Herdegen family