HIGH POINT, N.C., June 23, 2014 – Taylor Lavender, a rising senior at High Point University, recently led a dozen volunteers on a trip to Nicaragua to provide free clinical care and distribute hundreds of hand-decorated shoes to children in need.
As the HPU Campus Coordinator for VIDA (Volunteers for Inter-American Development Assistance), Lavender traveled to Nicaragua and Costa Rica providing medical, dental and veterinary care to people in need. HPU rising senior Elizabeth Taheri joined Lavender in facilitating the program and accompanied her on her latest trip to Nicaragua.
During her first trip to Nicaragua and Costa Rica with VIDA in 2013, Lavender met a 10-year-old boy named Gary who inspired her to offer something more than just medical care.
“When Gary came to the clinic, he had no shoes, had a huge gash on his toe and had walked a mile to find running water just to rinse off the injury before coming to us,” says Lavendar. “His eyes so genuinely and joyfully lit up when we wrapped the toe up for him and gave him the last pair of rubber flip-flops we had.”
Encouraged by Gary’s gratitude, Lavender organized “Protecting Tiny Toes” at HPU, an event where students, faculty and staff hand-decorated white canvas tennis shoes with colorful pictures, designs and messages.
For her return trip to Nicaragua in May, American Airlines waived Lavender’s baggage fees for transporting five suitcases full of 236 bright pairs of shoes. She and the other VIDA students distributed them to children at the medical clinic and Gary’s school. For many of the children, it was the first time in their lives they received proper footwear.
“It was rewarding to simply watch the smile and the pep in the step that each child got upon receiving their new pair of kicks,” says Lavender. “They walked away with a little more confidence, ran to show their parents, and ran and played around just the same – except now their tiny toes were protected.”
“Having the privilege to not only work on this project on the front end, but also see it through to deliver the shoes has been such a rewarding experience,” says Taheri. “I know this idea would not have become a reality without the help of the HPU family. I am thankful we attend a school that helps individuals fulfill their goals while also showing consideration for our worldwide friends.”
Altogether, the VIDA teams provided medical and dental assistance to 471 patients during their 10 days of clinical work.
Lavender says she and her family have already started decorating more shoes for a return VIDA trip in 2015.