TOMS and Partners in Health
Posted on April 4, 2013 at 2:01 PM
Amanda Schwartz is the Partnerships Manager at Partners In Health. Since 2007, she has helped cultivate partnerships and develop strategies across PIH’s work in Haiti, Rwanda, Malawi and Lesotho. Partners In Health has been a TOMS Shoe Giving Partner since 2010 and we’re excited to have her share about some of the exciting opportunities and work they do in the field with TOMS Shoes and children’s health interventions in Malawi.
When TOMS and Partners In Health (PIH), along with our sister organization Abwenzi Pa Za Umoyo (APZU), began our partnership in Neno, Malawi last year, we were grateful. Almost a quarter of the population has to walk more than five miles to access a health clinic. Walking five miles anywhere is hard for most everyone. Walking five miles when you’re sick is unimaginable. Walking five miles when you’re sick and when you are a kid is terrifying. Can you imagine what it would be like to do that and to be barefoot? At PIH, we believe in dignity – it is at the core of how we treat our patients, and our communities. We believe that all humans deserve the right to it, as much as we believe all humans deserve the right to health.
Neno is incredibly rural; on a good day, it takes over two hours to drive from the nearest city, and there is no direct, paved road that gets you there. Getting to every community within the district is even harder. It takes hours of driving on rugged, dirt roads and thousands of dollars of fuel. Thinking through how to work with the local Ministry of Health to provide health and dignity to every one of the 42,000 children who live in Neno is a challenge APZU faces daily.
When we began to integrate the distribution of TOMS Shoes into our program, our APZU team decided to do something that hasn’t been done before: to use the gift of shoes to not just bring dignity (though that’s important on its own), but also as an opportunity to deliver health care to those kids who can’t walk five miles. To the 42,000 kids who have a 12 percent chance of dying before their fifth birthday. And more specifically, to the one in four children in Neno who are underweight. We decided that every time we gave a pair of TOMS Shoes, we would also screen each child for malnutrition.
Though we had been conducting TOMS distributions in schools for some time, the APZU team knew that adding malnutrition screenings to the distributions wouldn’t be easy. We would need to train our clinical teams on new protocols in malnutrition treatment, and we would have to find a way to do rapid malnutrition screening for kids over the age of 5, something that hasn’t often been done. We would also have to achieve the nearly impossible task, as any school teacher might agree, of organizing hundreds of excited school kids into classrooms to not only measure their feet for their brand new shoes, but to also measure their height and weight in order to screen them for malnutrition.
Earlier this month, our APZU team piloted our first TOMS Shoes health interventions at two schools and we reached nearly 1,000 kids. When I spoke with Blessings Banda, our HIV and Nutrition Program Manager last week, he was thrilled. We identified almost 70 kids as needing malnutrition screenings, and referred them to the clinic for follow up care and malnutrition treatment. APZU plans to continue to monitor the distributions and screenings, and to make sure that the program is successful. We have thousands more kids to reach in the next couple of months, and hundreds more miles to cover to ensure that kids in Neno not only have dignity, but that they also have improved access to health.
One Day Without Shoes is about more than being barefoot. It is about opportunities to improve children’s health. It is about partnerships and the power behind them. It is about walking with dignity and it starts with something as wonderfully simple as a pair of shoes.