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How Two Teens Help Others Put Their Best Foot Forward

When you think of what makes up a basic, fundamental need, shoes aren’t always the first thing that comes to mind. But can you imagine not having shoes? Not even a pair of sneakers to go for a walk, or a weather-resistant pair of boots to get you through a sloppy New England day?

Such is the reality for many throughout the world. Zora Chirunga ’26 and her twin brother Denmark, a student at Roxbury Latin, were inspired to respond to this worldwide problem following a conversation they had with their parents after they attended a presentation on South African artwork. The artist had spent considerable time in Africa and described how underprivileged African children often have to attend school without proper footwear.

Tack on the several miles they often have to walk to get to and from school, and you have a considerable daily challenge for these students. Giving Soles Africa (GSA)was born in 2019 from that brief conversation with their parents, coupled with a strong desire to give back in a compassionate and practical way to their roots and community in Africa. Since the onset of the charity, GSA has donated over 1,500 pairs of shoes to children in Africa. According to their website, their mission is to provide underprivileged children with reliable footwear that supports and protects their feet as they walk to school each day.

“The responses that we received when we delivered the shoes were so kind and heartwarming that it reaffirmed why we do these donations in the first place,” said Zora.

Winsor participated in a shoe drive this past January and students were encouraged to bring in new or gently worn shoes. Denmark ran a similar drive at Roxbury Latin. They’ve been running shoe drives since 2019. Zora’s first GSA pitch was made to Lower School classmates, and she held her first shoe drive with Winsor in conjunction with the Fessenden School in 2019.

The sister and brother duo have visited Africa twice since beginning their registered charity, making trips to both South Africa and Ghana to hand deliver shoes to their partners, soaking up the kind of direct experience that will continue to propel their mission.

“When we were in South Africa, as soon as we arrived at our donation spot, there were tons of kids expecting us, even more than we thought would be there. We were told that we were going to be donating to about 150 kids, but we were greeted with over 250 kids. They were all so eager to talk to us and share their talents, and even had dance-offs with one another,” said Zora. “The vibe of the donation was less of a stuffy, carefully thought out event, and more of a day where anything could happen, and you had to think on your feet to accommodate whatever was thrown at you...The donations that we do are so much more than just handing shoes out and then leaving, they are opportunities to get to know the kids, learn more about local culture, and form a bond with the people to whom we are donating. In my opinion, that is the most important, heartwarming part of what we do.”
Zora and Denmark made their first trip to Africa during winter break in 2022 to Ghana, then traveled to South Africa the following year. They acknowledge some of the challenges they faced upon arrival to Ghana. “The infrastructure in Ghana is vastly different from the infrastructure in South Africa, as Ghana is still a very developing country compared to South Africa. Therefore, it was a bit hard to navigate the country and we had to rely on the tour company to drive us around,” said Zora. “Even though the accommodations were vastly different from what we were used to in the U.S., we enjoyed our stay in Ghana more than we did in South Africa. The wealth gap between White South Africans and Native South Africans was impactful, and it was very obvious when we were touring the country, leading to us feeling ‘survivor’s guilt.’ How can we live our lives so luxuriously while the majority of our people in this country are struggling so obviously to support themselves?”

The response to GSA has been tremendous both here and in Africa. Just this past November, they received their first big sponsorship with Marathon Sports, which donated 250 brand new shoes.

“Currently, our goal is to build Giving Soles Africa up and provide schoolchildren in Africa with as many shoes as we can while continuing to be efficient and intentional. This includes bolstering our current partnerships with our past partners while also looking into places like Kenya that have like-minded individuals who want to support underprivileged children as well,” said Denmark. “It is one of our biggest goals to expand to different African countries and support even more children, but first, we have to tighten up our current distributions as a grass-roots organization.”