Holmdel, NJ – Holmdel Village School students have spent this year learning about character traits using shoes as a visual reminder of this year’s theme, “If the shoe fits, wear it.” The hallway walls at the school are covered with colorful shoes bearing the students’ names. Each time they demonstrate one of the traits being studied they earn a shoe. So far, shoes earned represent the traits of respect, caring, trustworthiness, and responsibility. Throughout May, the preschool through third grade students will be involved in a school-wide service learning project for Sylvia’s Children, a 501(c)3 supports children at a Ugandan school, that will allow them to put the May character trait—fairness– into action!

The project is a shoe drive for Sylvia’s Children. The students and families who participate will each receive a paper footprint with the shoe size of one of the preschool to eighth grade student at the Mbiriizi Primary School, which is located in a village outside of Masaka, Uganda. They will then purchase a pair of generic “Crocs” and return them to school. The “Crocs” style shoes were chosen because they are easier to care for in the alternately muddy and wet, dusty and dry conditions of the African savannah.

The lofty but reachable goal is to collect 1,005 pairs of shoes, one new pair for each student currently enrolled in the school that Sylvia Allen, Sylvia’s Children founder, has been supporting through her charity. Says Allen “For children who have sandals made from old tires, receiving a pair of real shoes will be an exciting event.”
Allen, a 72 year-old Holmdel resident, is at the heart of this story. After seeing the conditions in Uganda on a 2003 trip and being asked by local officials if she could help, she returned to Holmdel determined to do everything she could for this group of children. Her school has grown to 1,005 students, of which one third are orphans as a result of the AIDS pandemic. The school is similar in size to Village School but vastly different in most other ways. The Sylvia’s Children brochure shows students sitting on wooden benches in classes of up to 100, learning through memorization because they have no books. The schoolyard has one slide for 1,005 students; at recess, the students line up to get perhaps one turn to slide down. They play with balls made of dried banana leaves.

Allen has worked tirelessly to improve the conditions at the Mbiriizi Primary School. Her accomplishments for the children are many, including the major addition of a well so that the children can attend school and not spend their days in search of fresh water for their families. Her eight-year goal is to make this school self-sufficient and then use it as model for other villages to follow. Her motto is “saving children, one child at a time.”

The Village School students are joining in Sylvia’s effort by participating in this Shoe Drive. It cannot level the playing field but it does show caring, generosity, and a desire to make a difference. Life with a proper pair of shoes will make things a little fairer for the students at the Mbiriizi Primary School.
The shoes that are collected will be presented to Ms. Allen in late May or early June, then bundled with socks being donated by Home Away From Home Academy (Matawan), checked as baggage, and hand delivered by those traveling with Sylvia on her next trip to Uganda in late June. The pictures of the children receiving their shoes will speak louder than words. The Holmdel Village School students and families should be commended for getting involved in such a meaningful service-learning project.

If you would like to help in this effort, you can pick up a footprint from Principal Elizabeth Giacobbe in the Main Office at Holmdel Village School. To make a tax-deductible donation or get more information about Sylvia’s Children visit www.sylviaschildren.org. One hundred percent of all donations go directly for the care of these children.