Saturday, November 17, 2007

couple stories

Since we last spoke we have given away nearly 6,000 pairs of shoes.

Imagine that, just for a moment. 25 of us giving 6,000 shoes away. It can be both pure madness and sheer bliss.

We drove 5 hours into the most rural areas of southeastern S. Africa. The land here is breathtaking. It's as lush and green as any land I've ever seen. And the people are wasting away. They have nothing. They walk hours for water everyday and have very little education to advance their lives.

But there are these few saints who are here helping. There is 1 therapist in a 4 hour perimeter. There are educators and orphanage mothers and doctors who are out here doing an impossible mission with endless energy and heart. They stared me in the eyes and offered at once more faith in me and more challenge for my goals than anyone I've ever met. They are true heroes. Everyday, sweating, bleeding, crying heroes.

There are a couple moments worth remembering.

We were driving on this winding road up a mountain and when we stopped these boys came up to our window and begged for water. Of course we gave them our water and frantically began looking for shoes to give them. As it turned out, we had exactly two pairs of Toms in the car. We gave them to these boys through the window and asked them to try them on. Perfect fit. Their eyes went huge and they hugged eachother laughing. I couldn't help but cry and laugh at once as we drove away from their waves.

We went to a school for the handicapped and discovered it was the first school of its kind in the entire region. There are over 1,000 handicapped kids on record for this area and estimates suggest there are many many more thousands who are unaccounted for. 22 of them get to go to school. That is where we went. At some point there was a miscommunication and we only ended up with 2 sizes of shoes at the school. We were trying to make it work and I went to this one boy in a wheelchair who had, quite simply, the most horrific feet I've ever seen. It was obvious no person had touched his feet to clean them in many months. I had a moment of panic when I saw them and a compulsive need to cover them with shoes. The size 10 was so tight I couldn't get it on but that was all we had. When I looked up at the boy I realized that, though he couldn't speak, he wanted those shoes far worse than I wanted to give them. The internal panic was overwhelming as I stretched and pulled on the seems of this stupid shoe in order to make it fit. By the time it finally got on the feet my heart was beating out of my chest and I was covered in sweat. But I looked up and his eyes were as joyful as any I've ever seen.
I'll never forget that moment as long as I live.

There are many more stories to share and I'll keep them coming as long as you'll allow me into your inboxes.

I do love you all and miss you.

love wins.sean.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Mission Realized

Yeaterday was the first day of our group's South Africa Shoe Drop and what a day it was. The day was so full of conflicted feelings and challenges and joy. From the plane ride in, I was faced with doubts from others about what we're doing and what impact it has. People questioned me about who we were giving shoes to and what difference that would make. After seeing first-hand the kind of poverty that the people we visited live in, I was pretty shook about how we can honestly make their situation better.

That all ended when we gave away the first shoes. Nothing can compare to the feeling I had when I gave away my first pair. Kids with nothing were so happy to be be with us and play. Their laughter and smiles in the face of their day to day puts the kind of life we lead into a very clear perspective. Something about the children in this place and the way they interact with us just gives me so much HOPE. These kids are the future of their villages and they are growing up with nothing. We have to do something to help them out soon and we can turn their whole future around. School fees, shoes, medicine, something. Food4Africa is amazing. These 4 people feed 15,000 kids a day and take almost nothing for themselves. They live how we all should and it is very, very inspiring. Please go to their website and get involved.

I did some reading on the way over that has had a big impact on the way I view our mission and TOMS.

The quote comes from a speech that Bobby Kennedy gave in South Africa in 1966:

"Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes our against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiestwalls of oppression and resistance."

All for now.


Africa's babies are beautiful

Yesterday we flew to a rural village on the east coast. We went to two schools, like preschools and the kids are so young. they have big wide eyes that stare at you like all children. some are smiling and they stick out their fingers with a thumbs up sign, but it's not a thumbs up it's a different way to say hello, so you put your thumb to their tiny ones and do this snap thing. when we go into the classrooms, the kids are all sitting down and they are so quiet when you put their shoes on, but then when they have shoes on them, they jump up and go outside to play (picture Zak and Geoff with all these little kids sitting in a line going up and down the see-saw). The third place we went to there was a house of sorts and this one woman feeds the children of the entire village.. like 300-400 children who all come after school with their bowls for their meal which they get twice a day. a grain porrage that has vitamins and nutrients that they need. We drove away from the village and there was one little girl coming down the rocky hill wearing her red and white stripe little TOMS. we didn't need a camera but everyone in our car cherished the moment of seeing her.
there was also this older child carrying a baby that I was putting shoes on.. and the wind kept blowing my hair in my mouth and each time she kept sweeping the hair out of my hair as if to help me. we are giving them shoes but they have given us all so much more. we will start our second day and i only hope for more of what i felt today.

aqui aqui! AFRICA

I am finally here! South Africa. The TOMS Shoes crew welcomed me with a standing O. I couldn't be happier to be in the company of friends and collegues.

I spent the last 48 hours nearly entirely alone. I missed my flight from Atlanta to Johanesbergh, S. Africa by TWO MINUTES. I had 10 friends on the flight and I called each of them and convinced them to stage a sit-in to buy me time to get to the flight. They ACTUALLY DID IT. One guy nearly pretended to go into shock.

By the end of the ridiculous episode, the airline stewards said if each of them didn't get on the plane they would retract their tickets with no refunds. Of course, my friends had to relent. They closed the door at 3:57. I arrived at 3:59. Begging, pleading, my arms flailing I cried "have some compassion and open the doors man!" The man said he had compassion the first time my crew protested but was now ready to call security on me if I didn't leave his sight immediately.

At least I know the TOMS crew is loyal.

The first 24 hours of my time alone I spent in a Comfornt Inn wishing I was sleeping on African dirt. Ah well, se la vi. It was a good time of introspection as I go from iPhone addict specializing in round the clock connectivity to the more quiet existence of a reader, writer and social observer.

This promises to be life changing two months. I am already digging deeper into my intellect and my insides as I attempt to see if I have the chops as a writer.

The TOMS crew is a rowdy bunch. We'lll go tomorrow into one of the most impoverished villages in all of South Africa. The people will be backbreaking, but this is where it becomes real.
If I truly believe in equality for all mankind, then these are the people I must call friends. I must know their story, their joy and their pain. Understand it in order to fight for it. I have been given access to circles unimaginable by these people and it is in those circles where their name must be heard.

Now I'm ranting.....

Can't wait to share this journey.

let love win.
sean d. carasso

Monday, November 5, 2007

Sometimes I make things explode-- SC

This morning was the first day that exhaustion set it. My roommate (who is one of the most beautiful people inside and out) and I could not go to sleep last night. We stayed up and watched the New York City Marathon on television... for two hours...

On the way to our first shoe drop of the day, we had a plug on the Port Elizabeth 9 am radio spot. They talked about TOMS and how we were giving shoes to thousands of kids in the community!

We went to 2 shanty towns this morning.The houses are made from scraps of metal, barely standing, but sometimes you will see a BMW sitting in the driveway... We heard that a lot of the people actually make a decent amount of money, but will spend it on alcohol, cars, etc. rather than education, clothing and food for their children. Again, the drops are getting more and more organized. It would be a lot easier just to hand them a pair of shoes, but it is so important to us to place them on each child's feet. It is an intimate experience between you and that child as you pull out a brand new pair of shoes, place them on their feet, and wait for that smile to appear. They especially love that they are wearing the same pair of shoes that we are.

Next, we went to a pre-school. There is about 130 kids in the school with four women there to take care of all of them. I stayed in the toddler room with about 15 babies under the age of two. The woman there was nothing less than an angel. She never stopped changing diapers or feeding during the two hours I was there. Sometimes kids would start crying, but would stop the second one of us would pick him or her up. They just needed to be touched. Blake actually got thrown up on!

For the rest of the day, we went to a sports bar to eat and just be together. There was a make-shift driving range out back where bets were made and dignity lost. We relaxed, continued to get to know each better and met some locals.

This trip has been amazing so far! I am so blessed to be able to come here and meet with these people. We are flying to Durban tonight and are not sure the next time we will have internet. Stay Tuned!

Sunday, November 4, 2007

First Shoe Drop Experience

As we loaded the vans for the first SA shoe distribution I was struck by the stark reality of SA's poverty as I saw the shacks and the dirty townships in fields. Gordon, Food 4 Africa founder, our driver, our leader, our historian, tells us that AIDS is at epidemic levels in SA. Children losing their mothers, their fathers, their brothers and sisters to the deadly disease. Brothers and sisters raising the younger ones as mothers die to the raging disease. The country's belly is swollen by AIDS and AIDS takes no prisoners. AIDS kills all in its path. As the van drives down the red clay rut ridden road children run alongside the van, others wave and in the distance ahead I could see hundreds and hundreds of children waiting, dreaming of a NEW pair of shoes. Bending down on the red clay road, I slipped off a little girl's shoe. She watched and eyed the bright pink pair of TOMS I had in my hand. Her little black foot was sweaty from wearing an old holey pair of shoes, too small for her feet. I slipped the shoe on her foot, but it was tight. I could see she was surprised when I told her, I was going to get a pair that fit her. I reached in my bag and pulled out the next size up which I slipped on her feet. They fit and a big smile appeared on her beautiful face. I stood up handed her the old shoes and gave her a big hug. I held her and thought: This gift of TOMS to this child is an even greater gift to me......

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Greetings from the airplane ride from LAX to Atlanta.

I am Candice, a TOMS volunteer and believer.

Six months ago when I met Blake in a Nordstrom’s store I had no idea that I would be sitting on an airplane headed to South Africa. Nor did I have any idea that I would have just organized 50+ people to join in this effort: the TOMS South Africa Shoe Drop. The second Shoe Drop in TOMS 18-month history and first in Africa.

With the amazing help of Gordon and his staff at we are preparing to put shoes on 50,000 brothers and sisters in this world and it will all start in about 24 hours. All I have been able to say to myself over the past 4 sleepless nights is “WOW”. Wow, wow and wow.

On our plane this morning (a nice early departure of 7:40AM- so early that one didn’t make it) we have Blake and myself as the only TOMS ‘staff’, we have some of our summer interns and the top TOMS sales person from Urban Outfitters (“lucky Andy”). We have Karina who has helped Blake from day one and Ken who will tirelessly film as we cry and sweat and learn and grow. We have Jan who applied online and is a wife and mother of two. We have TOMS sales representatives and I think I’ve just recruited the investment banker next to me to join us, too. No, we don’t have any room- we’re overbooked and just the way I like it!

And let’s not forget that as amazing a crew we have on the plane and those we’ll meet up with from the south and east coast (fans and boutique owners and fashion industry studs and studettes) I can’t stop thinking about the people back in the TOMS warehouse (or office if you will) who will keep it all running while we distribute the fruits of their labor. – Everyone will get their chance- every employee will eventually be on a Shoe Drop- but they are the people that make this possible. A big shout out to the special, special people who make sure the shoes are getting designed and made and shipped and sold and marketed and sold online and partnered with awesome organizations and the list goes on… and on… and on. Thank you to the TOMS family wherever they are today working…

The thing I think I am most excited about is spreading the love that 50,000 customers have given us to pass on. People who believe in TOMS and don’t give up on us and spread the word and donate their MySpace messages or birthday parties all in the name of TOMS. We, the young and old, parents and children, all colors and all religions, we have the power to do what we wish with the money we spend… and if you are reading this I personally thank you for probably giving some of that to a pair of TOMS.

I am going to be quite busy once we land in South Africa. I mean, if I have it my way everyone will be really busy… but not knowing how much time I will have to ‘blog’ (this is my first ever!)… I just want to thank you, the customers and supporters, again. And I need to especially thank those who have supported me while I’ve donated my time the last six months to this amazing company that is truly going to change lives… mom and dad and Kai and my brothers and all of our friends and loved ones who have purchased and donated to TOMS in your own special way. THANK YOU. From the bottom of my heart and until South Africa-

Love in TOMS, Candice

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Getting ready for Africa....

This morning as I was packing my bag and making my final preparations, I started to think about the path that led to me to this place - here, now... getting ready for this great adventure.

It was in the fall of 2005 that I met Blake Mycoskie thru my friend Tyler Barth. We had shared some laughs (and some beers) at several late night parties, poker tourneys, Viper Room concerts etc. My impression of Blake was probably the same as most-- nice smile, funny with good looks reminiscent of a young Val Kilmer paired with a mischievous and irreverent streak lurking just underneath. He was my kind of guy. At Tyler's annual holiday party we were drinking, dancing, taking pictures and just being silly (as anyone who has seen those pictures can attest). I left for Christmas holiday and when I got back in January I remember stumbling upon Blake's myspace page and reading his profile. He had a quote in his 'about me' profile that stuck me: "In the end, my life will not be measured by what I acquired but by what I gave away." I immediately emailed him asking to meet for coffee-- it was clear to me that this was a someone that I needed to get to know better -- certainly there was more to him than the guy vamping for my camera at the party.

He responded immediately... "i'd love to but tomorrow I am leaving for South America for three weeks - let's have coffee when I get back." So I just figured that eventually we'd catch and hang out... three months went by.

It was at the end of March of 2006 when I asked Tyler whatever happened to his friend Blake... it seemed as if he had fallen off the face of the earth. In fact, he said, he had just gotten back from Argentina that day and would be coming out to our big party we were throwing that night. Apparently, jet lag had got the best of him and Blake was a no-show at the party. I emailed to rib him about being a flake and he said "let's have breakfast Saturday morning at the Brickhouse in Venice" (*very good breakfast burrito btw).

Blake had mentioned something about a new project that he had just started working on and since I was knee deep in the movies, product placement and fashion he wanted to bend my ear.

So on April 1st last year I went to the Brickhouse in Venice, got a table on the patio and waited.... I had no idea about what I was about to get involved with-- but that moment is when I jumped down the rabbit hole of TOMS.....

Soul Purpose

"I slept and dreamt that life was joy

I woke and saw that life was service

I acted and behold, service was joy"

-Rabindranath Tagore


every day i think about it. i get chills from it. i dream of it. i draw pictures of it. i visualize the children smiling, running, playing... it, is africa- a new land which i will travel and return from with a purpose emboldened--- give more shoes to more people and make the world a better place one inspired human at a time.

"Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life." ~Confucius