Three University students have applied to the TOMS Giving Trip Contest, which is an opportunity to accompany TOMS Shoes representatives on a trip to a developing country to distribute the shoes. Seniors Andrea Zinn and Meredith Meyerhofer and junior Amayo Bassey all said that their experiences with service at the University contributed to their desire to apply.
The contest runs through April 12. To vote, one must log onto the TOMS website, create a username and search for each applicant’s entry page. Each person can vote for as many applicants as they would like, but they can only vote once for each applicant. The top 50 applicants with the most votes will be chosen for the trip.
TOMS shoes are sold at a number of retailers, and for each pair sold, TOMS donates a pair of shoes to a child in need, an initiative they call “One for One.”
The Giving Trips go to a variety of countries, with past destinations including countries such as Honduras, Peru, Guatemala and Argentina. The TOMS website describes a Giving Trip this way: “During these trips, we help our Giving Partners place new shoes on the feet of kids. The trips also give everyone an opportunity to see firsthand the work that our Giving Partners do 12 months a year, integrating TOMS Shoes into larger programs to improve education and health.”
Each of the University students had unique reasons for applying.
“I think gaining insight on the way that developing communities interact and the culture within them and just educating myself on different cultures is really, really important,” Zinn said. “I thought the TOMS Giving Trip would be a really good opportunity to further my education about developing countries and how TOMS’ work actually affects the economies that they work in.”
Zinn, an international business, marketing and management major, first learned about TOMS during her freshman year when Business Without Borders invited Blake Mycoskie, CEO of Toms, to give a lecture on campus.
“He explained social entrepreneurship, which is basically running a business with a social cause behind it which I thought was a really revolutionary idea and it’s something that TOMS really piloted in the business world,” Zinn said.
Service has always been a passion of Zinn’s. While at the University, she has gone on a number of service break trips, including one to Cambodia during her junior year. During the three-week trip, Zinn worked at an orphanage and helped build a playground for children who never had one before.
“I’ve never felt so empowered that I have the resources and ability to do things than when I learned from all of the people in Cambodia who were doing so much work for the children and the community there,” she said.
The trip helped her realize that simple actions and steps can create real change.
Zinn also works with other charitable organizations, including Invisible Children and Victor’s Vision. She believes that education is the most vital part of any work in a developing country.
Meyerhofer, a chemical engineering major, has been a longtime supporter of TOMS and has participated in their annual Day Without Shoes to raise awareness.
“I wanted to apply because I think it’s a really great opportunity to learn about communities that you might not be able to travel to on a regular basis and I think smaller communities like those that TOMS goes to have a lot to teach you,” Meyerhofer said.
She was involved in Habitat for Humanity in high school and continued that involvement at Villanova through the service break trip program. She went on three trips, including one to Georgia, where she aided migrant workers and learned about immigration issues, and one to Costa Rica, where the group focused on sustainability and healthy living.
“It was very much an education about balance in life in all facets,” she said.
As the vice president of Foundations for Delta Gamma Sorority, Meyerhofer has worked with TOMS, particularly with their new eyewear program.
“I like that they are diversifying things, and I think that medical help is really hard to receive depending on what area you’re in because of access,” she said. “The fact that that’s been an area of focus is really great.”
Bassey, an international business and accounting major, has also been active in the service break trip program while at the University. She is also involved in RUIBAL, a service program that works with children in inner-city Philadelphia, and is a Service Learning Community facilitator and co-chair. It was after leading a break trip to Kentucky this spring that she decided to enter the TOMS contest.
“I came back with that urge to do more and give back to the community,” Bassey said.
Part of Bassey’s motivation to apply came from her experiences growing up in Nigeria.
“The rich are extremely rich and the poor are extremely poor and there’s barely a middle class—it blends very well with the upper, higher class,” Bassey said. “On a daily basis you interact with both sides, both extremes. I grew up witnessing and experiencing people without shoes, people without clothing.”
Like the other Villanova candidates, Bassey believes in TOMS “One for One” philosophy. By going on this trip, she said that she will get the opportunity to see those who are being helped and to see the final results. Bassey wants to be able to see the direct impact of people’s charity.
“Just sitting there and not doing anything, that makes me no different from the people in higher positions that do have the money and the funds and are not doing anything to help them, and I feel like if I do have this little opportunity to help people, why not?” she said. “I have no other choice; I have no reason not to.”