Through a partnership with TOMS Shoes, thousands of new shoes distributed to children in poor communities.


By Robbie Flick, Health Programs Coordinator, Malawi

Hundreds of jubilant voices in unison merged into an excited cacophony as our truck pulled up at the Malimba Primary School in southern Malawi. Children danced around the truck until the head teacher, a sharply dressed older man with an air of authority, began organizing the students. A quick order and the first graders were in line, laughing, pushing, and singing. Older students began offloading dozens of brown cardboard boxes, each filled with new TOMS black canvas slip-on shoes.

It was the first day of a 10-day TOMS Shoe distribution coordinated by Partners In Health’s Malawian sister organization, APZU. In the impoverished rural Neno District of Malawi, most children have never owned a new pair of shoes, and many have never owned any shoes.

“[The shoes] make me feel happy and that everything will be OK,” beamed Alfred Benson, a student whose parents are both subsistence farmers. He told us that his new black shoes were the first pair of shoes he’s ever owned. 

Bare feet carry a number of ramifications in these communities. For example, children without shoes are at a greater risk of becoming infected with soil-transmitted parasites, such as hookworm. These common infections can have debilitating effects on a child’s health and long-term development, including cognitive development. In addition, bare feet are at a higher risk of injury and resulting infections. Many students walk several kilometers each way to school, a journey that often takes them across huge stretches of scorching sands and rocky river beds, sometimes even discouraging students from attending school.


With smooth efficiency, the members of APZU’s Department of Community Programs (DCP) began the arduous process of sizing and putting shoes on the feet of every child enrolled at the school, along with hundreds of students in the community who are either too young for school or have dropped out. Using a laminated sizing chart stapled to a plank of cardboard, our team quickly measured each child’s feet. The children then walked over to the distribution area to receive their properly-sized shoes. As the hot dry season’s sun traced a lazy arc across the cloudless sky, the pace continued unbroken, child by child, grade by grade. As the sun set behind the rounded western mountaintops; the APZU team brandished headlamps and lanterns — we had promised the children of Neno that we would give a new pair of shoes to every child who needed them.

Over the 10 long days of the shoe distribution in late September and early October, we witnessed an overwhelming demand for a resource that I had taken for granted for much of my life. We held distributions at the Lisungwi Primary School, with their concrete school buildings surrounding a soccer field, right off the main road; and at the Mphitsa Primary School, whose region is effectively cut off from the outside world during the rainy season. We distributed thousands of pairs at Community Based Organizations — M’sambe and Chiyembekezo — to ensure the region’s most vulnerable children were impacted by the program. The team also distributed hundreds of shoes right at APZU’s pediatric clinic.

At the end of those ten days, thousands of children in Neno had received a pair of new shoes. The APZU team immediately began discussing how to address the ongoing need for shoes going forward. Victor Kanyema, APZU’s Director of the Program for Social and Economic Rights, expressed a simple goal: to put shoes on the feet of every child in Neno District. With the help of TOMS Shoes, we are getting closer to making that vision a reality.

PIH also recently distributed news TOMS Shoes to children in Rwanda. Learn more

Children pose, showing off their new TOMS shoes.