Ken calls schools to put best foot forward for Africa’s children

Schools across Sheffield are being invited to put their best foot forward for Africa’s children- by collecting unwanted shoes and boots.

Ken Dunn, the founder of charity ‘Africa’s Gift’, is an award-winning geography teacher and former deputy head of Sheffield's City School who was inspired to set up the charity after he won a trip to Africa as a prize in an amateur photography competition. He made the courageous choice to leave his teaching career for the uncertainty of running the charity full time from his home in Rotherham in 2010.

“A pair of shoes can seem the most basic possession to us in the UK, but in Africa it can mean the difference between a child being able to get to school or not,” explained Ken. “Having been a teacher myself, I know non- uniform days can be tricky, especially for children from more disadvantaged areas, so I came up with an alternative: Happy Feet Day

is a ‘non-uniform day’ for your feet!

Students simply attend school in their choice of footwear, whilst handing over a pair of unwanted shoes that can be used again in rural Africa. All we ask is that the shoes are clean, paired, tied or bagged together when we collect the shoes from school on the Happy Feet Day, so there are no storage problems. We weigh them and make swift payment.”

The project is already running successfully among several Rotherham schools and churches and Ken is keen to expand it to neighbouring Sheffield. The idea came to Ken two years ago while leading his regular community development visits to the mountain kingdom of Lesotho, when children constantly asked him for black shoes so they could go to school. “Naturally people think of Africa as being hot, but being mountainous, Lesotho temperatures drop from an unbearable 35 degrees in their summer, to freezing with snow on the ground in their Winter months of June to August. It’s heart- breaking to see children with bare feet or just rags wrapped around their feet when we have shoes in the wardrobe we never wear”.

Shoes for Africa welcomes all adult or child sized shoes, sandals, sporting/football boots, walking boots or trainers; but cannot accept slippers, wellingtons or knee length women’s fashion boots. Those unsuitable for Lesotho are sold in the markets of Accra and every penny of the money raised goes to the charity.

Ken adds, “Where schools or businesses are looking for income, we pay 40p per kilogram for reusable shoes, and then transport them to Africa, where they are introduced into the communities sensitively. Our focus is always on empowering community members rather than perpetuating a dependency culture and we work with key personnel to make this happen.”

As a charity, Africa’s Gift mainly supports business, educational and volunteers’ trips to make a difference in rural communities in South Africa, including Lesotho, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia, Malawi and Uganda.

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From school or business collection points, the shoes are containerised in Wolverhampton and those that are unsuitable for direct introduction are sold in the markets of Accra, West Africa with a fully traceable, ethical journey. 48 African locals gain employment to sort, pack, clean and refurbish the shoes. Shoes are carefully introduced to the local community through the Malealea Development Trust on ‘partnership impact visits’- not the traditional handout expeditions- so local sellers are not put out of work. “No one can compete with free” explains Ken. People ‘earn’ footwear by volunteering with community action projects such as environmental restoration or re-roofing the hut of a grandma looking after AIDS orphans.

“I can guarantee every shoe leaves the continent We are very keen to hear from any retailers who are looking to offload surplus stock which we can take for free or buy for a small fee and broker to the African markets,” says Ken. Nike recently donated old season football, boots to a powerful project in Cape Town and Lesotho.

Businesses are now being asked to join in by providing collection sites or running their own Happy Feet Days. Bristol Street Motors Nissan were Sheffield’s first business collection point, joined by city centre entrepreneur co-working space Union Street, close to the Peace Gardens. Now independent running shops Accelerate at Attercliffe and Front Runner on Sharrowvale Road have started collection points and Ferndale garden centre at Coal Aston has become the latest drop off site, covering the South West of the city and Derbyshire. To become a Happy Feet collection point, host a day or find out more Email Ken, call him on 01709 717111 @AfricasGift on twitter

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