I have a daughter that “shoes” people

by Mary Helen Darah


I have a daughter that “shoes” people … and I couldn’t be prouder. Helena, a special educator for the Sylvania City School district, has always been an empathetic soul. She learned American Sign Language in the third grade. There wasn’t a dry eye on a bus in downtown Chicago when Helena approached a woman who was signing to her caregiver. The then 8-year-old signed, “Hi, I’m happy Helena,” to the woman. They began to have a conversation in sign. The woman asked my child if she had always been deaf. Helena informed her that she was a “hearing girl.” When the woman asked, “Then why do you sign?” Helena replied, “So I can talk with you.”

It, therefore, came as no surprise when she told me that she was going to go help build and teach at a school in Msambweni, Kenya, sans toilet, running water and a real bed, for the summer. I must admit I was less than thrilled with the news. In order to get to her destination, she had to fly Air Canada from Detroit to Toronto, hop on an Air Tunisia Flight to Istanbul, then on to Africa. Once she landed in Kenya, she had to locate a sign-holding man who would take her two hours away to the village by taxi, all without a working cell phone. It was a mom’s worst nightmare. I couldn’t breathe. I could eat, however. FYI, baked goods are especially lovely when you’re stress eating.

I finally got myself together on the return drive from dropping her off in Detroit and having an emotional meltdown after the airport parking attendant grilled me on why I would ever allow my daughter to do such a thing.

My golden retriever greeted me upon my arrival home. She rushed up to the room where Helena had been staying before her big trip. I tried to retrieve the retriever from her room when I discovered she had left some very important items on her bed that should have been packed in her one and only duffle bag. Knowing she hadn’t boarded yet, I called her, and told her of the massive error. She told me that she intentionally took out the needed items. Why? She needed the room … for children’s shoes.


Helena, my analytical daughter who calls herself a “moderate,” truly has the unique gift of understanding and respecting the viewpoints of others. She is supportive of peaceful dissent. There is nothing political about her distress over seeing people burn their Nike shoes in protest. But she’s had the experience of watching one of her fellow teachers in Msambweni hold a raffle of toys and shoes for her students. Even though the children had no toys, and wanted them desperately, the majority chose the shoes. In fact, one little boy chose a pair of pink, sparkly sandals either for himself or for a family member. The cost of certain Nike shoes exceeds the majority of those student’s monthly family income. Many of Helena’s students in Africa would walk miles to get to school in their bare feet. Having shoes means opportunity. Having shoes means hope.

Maya Angelou once wrote, “I think we all have empathy. We may not have enough courage to display it.” I am thankful I have a courageous daughter who “walks a mile in other people’s shoes,” but also stands in them, feels the dreams in their hearts and “shoes” them.


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