At a local preschool, a group of young girls celebrated the joyous gift of new shoes by performing dabke — a Palestinian folk dance — with their new shoes showing from underneath their traditional Palestinian dresses.
The children are just some of the thousands receiving a new pair of TOMS Shoes.
This is the second year Anera has distributed TOMS Shoes to children at more than 100 preschools across Gaza through its early childhood development initiative, which supports preschool programs, teacher training and community awareness programs to encourage the love of learning.
A new pair of shoes means a lot to a child in Gaza. Years of siege, recurrent violence and the recent airstrikes in November have forced many families into harsh living conditions. Buying appropriate shoes for their children is a luxury most cannot afford.
The children at the preschool could hardly believe their eyes when the shoes arrived. “Can we take them home with us or are they just for a special performance?” asked five-year-old Amal.
Amal’s face lit up when her teacher responded, “They are yours to keep!” Amal says the only shoes she has ever worn were hand-me downs from her three older siblings and they never quite fit.
Ayaa was so pleased with her new shoes that she wrote a thank you note: “My shoes are comfy and I can jump high like a horse!” Her aunt says Ayaa is an active child who likes to play with her friends when she’s not watching cartoons on TV. “Ayaa used to wear a pair of flimsy, tattered shoes all year long, and in winter she would wear extra thick socks to try to keep her feet dry.”
Preschool director Najwa, has worked with the children of her central Gaza village for more than 23 years. She says their reality is grim: “Many kids come to school with torn shoes or sandals during winter. Today, I can’t describe my feelings when I see them smiling. These kids are displaced each time a crisis happens and have had to leave their homes. Receiving a new pair of shoes is a message for them that life still has many good things.”