In collaboration with TOMS Shoes, students on the Spring 2014 Semester at Sea voyage joined a worldwide community to recognize One Day Without Shoes by going barefoot. The act symbolized the problem of shoelessness around the globe. Without a pair of shoes, children are more susceptible to certain illnesses and are less likely to stay enrolled in school. But before I jump into what we did to observe ODWS, let me tell you about all of the wonderful ways we have embraced the TOMS mission while we sailed around the world.
My name is Haley Olig and am a current student onboard the Spring 2014 voyage. My connection to TOMS started when I bought my first pair of shoes in a Milwaukee boutique seven years ago. After learning about the company, I immediately respected their mission and have been an avid supporter ever since. I have always wanted to get involved on a deeper level and when the TOMS community director, Bethany Clark, boarded the ship with us in Mexico I knew that this would be my opportunity.
Bethany, along with one of our Resident Director Jarquetta, got to work right away and provided us with all of the resources necessary to have the biggest impact on and off the ship. We were the first to ever form a TOMS club on a floating campus! I was thrilled to become a club leader and I knew it was going to be a great way to raise awareness about the TOMS “One for One” mission of providing one pair of shoes to children in developing countries for every pair sold in the US.
The club really got into the swing of things after our time in Japan. We held regular meetings and engaged the community whenever possible. Every evening while at sea we have something called “World Cafés” where members of the community give a presentation on their topic of choice. The TOMS club signed up to host a World Café to speak about Blake Mycoskie’s book Start Something that Matters. Instead of adhering to the typical lecture format, however, we made it into a large book discussion. Our goal was to spread our passion for the One for One business model with everyone on board the ship.
On this voyage there is a large emphasis on social entrepreneurship and we knew that TOMS would provide a perfect example of a successful and effective social venture. After giving some background information on the company itself, we discussed how we could all incorporate the TOMS mission into our own lives. Shortly after the presentation, a group of students were so inspired by the TOMS story that they founded Ubuntu Coffee: a coffee company that buys fair trade coffee in each port we visit, sells it on the ship, and then donates a portion of the proceeds to a non-profit or NGO in the next port. They had been motivated by TOMS and used it to start “something that matters” to them.
I was in charge of the programming for World Water Day which was an absolute blast. All of us have spent the past semester literally living on water, so World Water Day had a very special meaning for us. Throughout the week we distributed facts about the ship’s water usage and told the shipboard community how they could effectively conserve water.
I was lucky enough to participate in a TOMS Giving Trip in Ghana through a Semester at Sea field program. I cannot articulate how big of an impact that day had on me. A group of us visited an orphanage in a small village and helped to distribute new pairs of shoes to hundreds of children. I witnessed the impact TOMS made on their lives and saw the gratitude and joy on their smiling faces. Those shoes may transform their lives and provide them with a better future which is pretty amazing!
Our last TOMS event is One Day Without Shoes which is the annual day where people around the world take off their shoes to raise awareness for children’s health and education. Leading up to the special day we informed the shipboard community of the consequences of shoelessness and encouraged everyone to think about what they can do to help.
We invited voyagers to leave their literal footprint on a large banner we had created. To me it signified how we had also left our own symbolic footprint on the world throughout our voyage, both on the minds of our shipboard community as well as in the lives of those we worked with on our giving trip.
I am so thankful to have been a part of the TOMS and Semester at Sea collaboration this flagship year. Moving forward, I know that this experience will stay with me and help me “start something that matters” to me.