When I went shopping with my son for his first pair of racing flats for cross country, he looked over the choices and zeroed in on a bright red pair. Like a good mom, I made him try them on and smashed my finger by the toes to see if there was room to grow. I asked him if they were comfortable. His answer didn’t convince me that they were a good fit. But, there was no changing his mind. He was sure this was the pair. When asked what he liked about them he said, “These shoes say: I’m here and I can do something!” I couldn’t argue with that. Four years of cross country later, he proved that statement true. When he put on those shoes, he could do something.
A couple years later that experience was repeated in a most unexpected place. I was in Guatemala traveling with a friend and helping support her work with Starfish — whose mission is to unlock and maximize the potential of young women in Guatemala. One afternoon after we finished our teaching duties, my friend and I headed to the outdoor market. I had brought just a little bit of extra cash to Guatemala, figuring I would bring something back for my sons. As we walked through the square we were greeted by two boys, about 8 or 9 years old. They asked if we wanted to see the statue of Maximon (pronounced Mashimon), a local mixture of a Catholic saint and a Mayan deity. We inferred they wanted payment for the favor. After speaking to them in Spanish and asking for their names and ages, we inquired what they wanted to do with the money. The boys said they needed shoes. Looking down at their feet, the fact was verified. We walked with the boys to the market and asked them to show us where to find shoes. In the market there was a table with rows of shoes lined up under an open air canopy. No marked sizes—just rows of shoes. I started perusing the shoes for comfort and utility, but the kids zeroed in on one style in particular–they were bright red. We searched around to find the shoes in their sizes and like typical moms with sons, we made them stand while we pressed our thumbs on the toes to see if they had room to grow. I pulled my little bit of souvenir money out of my pocket and helped pay for the shoes. We laced them up, shook the boys’ hands, and said farewell. I’m pretty sure it was the best “souvenir” I’ve ever bought.
It has been a couple of years now, and I’m sure those shoes have been well used and outgrown. But my prayer is that the boys found a way to move forward, to continue to help their families, and have found some relief from poverty. I hope that it was more than just a few fleeting moments that they ran through the streets — their feet silently screaming to the people of Panajachel, “Look at me! I’m here and I can do something!”