Helping children in Haiti one pair of shoes at a time

Mirlie Abraham and Paulin Mathurin founded the Centre d’Encadrement pour Les Druminis (Center to Help the Less Fortunate) four years ago for the purpose of collecting and distributing school shoes for Haitian children. (Sun Sailor photo by Kristen Miller)

St. Philip the Deacon in Plymouth is collecting dress shoes through Friday, May 26

For the children of Haiti, oftentimes, it’s not having the right pair of shoes that is standing in the way of getting an education. Members of St. Philip the Deacon in Plymouth are trying to change that by collecting black dress shoes, a staple in the Haitian government-required school uniforms.

Two years ago, the congregation made it one of their ministries after learning about the problem from Haitian native Mirlie Abraham, and co-founder of the non-profit Centre d’Encadrement pour Les Druminis, which in English, translates to Center to Help the Less Fortunate.

Abraham grew up in the village of Cap-Haiten, located in the northern part of Caribbean island nation, before moving to America when she was 10 years old. She and her partner and fiancé Paulin Mathurin, know firsthand the struggles facing Haitians, especially when it comes to meeting basic needs.

A 4-year-old Haitian with his donated school shoes. (Submitted photo)

“I used to get donations when I went to school in Haiti,” said Abraham, which is why she felt compelled to do something to help her people back home. “I just want to give back because somebody gave back to me when I was growing up,” she said.

“If you don’t have the proper shoes, you definitely can’t go to school,” she said. She also knows the importance of having sturdy, thick-soled black shoes having to walk for miles on rocks to get to school herself. She also had an incident when a rock penetrated her shoe.

With an unemployment rate of 60 percent, the majority of the population lives on $1 a day, Mathurin noted. The average cost of a pair of black shoes in Haiti is $50.

It’s easier to get socks and the fabric to make the uniforms. The shoes become the piece of the uniform that is most expensive, explained Cindy Carlson, director of congregational life at St. Philip the Deacon.

Oftentimes, the nonprofit organizations focus on the country’s larger cities and neglect the rural communities, which is why the couple wanted to focus on Cap-Haiten. They have since identified 400 children, as having the most need in the area, to receive the shoe donations. School lunch can also be the only meal a child will receive that day, making the shoes even more critical, Abraham explained.

Pastor Valerie Strand-Patterson, who visited Haiti last year to help distribute the shoes described the ministry as serving the “poorest of the poor in the poorest country in the western hemisphere.”

“Our hope is that we can help kids go to school because that is their hope for a better future … and they feel so strongly about getting that education,” said Strand-Patterson.

The past two years, the church has collected 500 pairs of shoes for what it refers to as the Haiti Kids Project.

Girls in Haiti with their donated school shoes. (Submitted photo)

Additionally, five pallets of meals were delivered from Feed My Starving Children, with each child receiving 10 packets or 60 meals.

Hygiene products, such as toothbrushes, toothpastes, and deodorant are also collected.

Last year, they also collected 30 soccer balls and hand pumps to distribute to children throughout the community.

Because this is such a poor community, children become resourceful when it comes to toys and games, finding whatever materials and wrapping it to form a ball. With drug and alcohol abuse starting at such young ages in Haiti, Mathurin said soccer becomes a deterrent for the kids.

As the ministry team drove around the countryside, they would stop when they saw kids playing soccer. Mathurin would pull out a soccer ball and pump it up and give it the captain of the team. Their faces would light up with joy.

“You would’ve thought he had just given them three bags of gold. It was just amazing,” said Strand-Patterson.

“Education is so important,” Abraham said, recalling her grandma, who always told her “education opens doors, no matter where you are in life.”

Being a poor girl from rural Haiti, Abraham never thought she would be where she is at in life. Now, having since graduated with a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy and founding her own nonprofit, Abraham wants to give kids hope.

“You can be anything you want to be, because you don’t know where life is going to lead you,” she said.

How to help
Through Friday, May 26, St. Philip the Deacon will collect new or gently used black dress shoes for school-age children ages 3-12 years old (sizes 13-6). They must be black dress shoes. No heels, sandals, or tennis shoes.

The church is also collecting hygiene products, soccer balls (size 5) and hand pumps. Monetary donations are also accepted to assist with shipping costs and miscellaneous items.

Donations can be dropped off at the church, 17205 County Road 6, Plymouth.

Contact Kristen Miller at [email protected]

Paulin Mathurin explained how soccer balls help deter children from drug and alcohol abuse. (Submitted photo)
Paulin Mathurin explained how soccer balls help deter children from drug and alcohol abuse. (Submitted photo)