A collaborative effort between Sarah Ogundare and Abree Peterson, founders of the Step Forward Club and Bimbo Shittu’s Token of Love Foundation is delivering much needed shoes to needy children in the suburbs of Abuja.
On a sunny afternoon in late 2017 Abree Peterson and Sarah Ogundare, who were both Sophomores at ACS Cobham (in England), started a discussion about an element that was missing in their school’s humanitarian outreach program.
ACS Cobham students have been known for years for raising awareness of needs around the world, especially in underserved populations. However, Sarah and Abree noted that a significant number of these student groups were more focused on raising funds through their respective charities rather than creating awareness through sensitization of the community and directly transferring a product, which will measurably impact the lives of people in an underprivileged area of the world with measurable impact.
Their discussion led to a novel initiative with an interesting background. Both, Sarah and Abree are both avid runners. While Abree is more focused on distance running, Sarah prefers sprinting. Fate drew both of them to the runners’ club, where over a long distance run through the hills of Cobham, the impact of the running track on their feet made them appreciate the protective role of good shoes on the feet when running. Most importantly, on the journey to and from school, the pain from pounding bare feet on a road wouldn’t be distracting to education and the learning process.
These realities led to the emergence of Step Forward Club: a service club centered on running, and improving the path to education, good health and healthy feet.
Over the following semester, Abree and Sarah continued contemplating where their club activities would have the most impact. Fate would once again step in to bring this together because during the Christmas holidays, Step forward and Token of Love Foundation; Nigeria would come together.
Sarah’s parents are friends with Bimbo Shittu has dedicated her life to providing educational support, welfare assistance and health care for the underprivileged, orphans and children rescued from the menace of wars. While living in Abuja, Bimbo’s daily focus was on traveling hundreds of kilometers to the nearby states to disseminate love and care to the children.
Sarah and Abree saw this as a natural fit for the service club. Over a series of telephone calls and emails, Sarah and Abree made a commitment to support Token of Love foundation.
“Sarah and Abree saw an opportunity to support the goal of Token of Love foundation, but more importantly, bring direct awareness of the plight of children in unreached societies. An interesting collaboration that defied cultural, religious and geographical boundaries,” says Bimbo.
The seed was sown, but the tough part lay ahead. The club had to be registered following approval of a supervisor and an assistant principal. This wasn’t an easy feat in an institution with over 50 clubs!!! Sarah and Abree started the arduous task of notifying the school and “selling the project”. This was followed by the challenge of filling out the administrative forms, convincing a faculty member to act as a supervisor and seeking the approval of the dean for the club’s goals. With determination, the duo were prepared to start Step Forward in November of 2018!
Abree and Sarah realized their first step was to create awareness about their aspiration in starting Step Forward, and decide how to collect as many running shoes as possible. In order to do so, the Step Forward duo sent out emails to the divisions of their school, put up posters, created videos and individually spoke to different classes about the shoes they wanted to donate and how people could get involved.
In order to provide easy access to collection baskets, the Step Forward duo bought and placed various containers at the entrances of the academic divisions and sports buildings at their school. At first, the donations they received were few. However, as more students and parents became aware of Step Forward, the amount of donations they were receiving became so numerous that they couldn’t empty out the baskets fast enough!
By the end of May 2019, Step Forward had collected a grand total of 299 pairs of running shoes! All that was left was to update the founder of Token of Love foundation and to ship the shoes to Nigeria.
While Sarah and Abree were going about their tasks, Bimbo and the Token of Love team, in Abuja, were doing their best to find the most cost-efficient way to get the shoes into Nigeria.
Bimbo woke up most days sending messages and emails to most airlines that flew directly and indirectly to Abuja, but turn-by-turn, each one turned down her request to help ship the shoes as a charity to Nigeria. Bimbo had no other choice than to use her savings to ship the shoes to Nigeria. “It’s the cost of serving God and providing succor,” she says– her mood reflecting her satisfaction in contributing to the development of humanity.
In June 2019, the shoes were finally shipped and received by Token of Love Foundation in Abuja. What Step Forward had not told the Token of Love Foundation team was that some of the students and parents in the Cobham community who didn’t have used shoes to give bought new shoes to donate to the cause!
“Choosing the locations for distribution was not an easy task based on demand,” says Bimbo. “We had to find out where we could really make an impact.”
The shoes were distributed to three high need orphanages in Abuja. The distribution also extended to Bassa village, a rural community in the environs of the Nnamdi Azikwe International Airport, Abuja. “The irony of this is that most of these children hear the airplanes land daily but the arrival of the shoes helped them to appreciate how the airport bridges the distance between England and Nigeria,” says Bimbo.
While this went on, thousands of miles away, Sarah and Abree eagerly awaited news on this collaboration. Abree still remembers where she was sitting when she received pictures from Sarah (that had been sent by Bimbo) of the smiling children excited to receive their new sneakers.
“Despite the difficulty we had initiating Step Forward, we realised that our hard work had paid off. We were amazed by how much of an impact this had on the community and are appreciative of the opportunity we’ve had to connect with them,” say Abree and Sarah. There was an equal sense of accomplishment by the two, as they reflected on all the efforts and frustration faced while executing the project.
To Token of Love, despite over 10 years of working to educate and cater to vulnerable children living within and around Abuja, the partnership with Step Forward played a big role in improving their quality of life.
According to Bimbo, providing education and improving quality of life plays a big role in the life of children. “The timing of the partnership with Step Forward couldn’t have come at a better time.”
For Abree and Sarah, it is a new school year and they are continuing to publicize the cause and set up the baskets to collect much needed shoes to put smiles on the faces of more and more children.