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Social Studies Teacher Travels with TOMS Shoes

Social studies teacher David Muhammad was searching on the TOMS website for a new pair of shoes to add to his current three pair collection. He saw the campaign that would give him an opportunity he had been waiting for: a chance to go on a humanitarian trip. Now he had the opportunity to help others and fit children in need with new shoes. Muhammad knew he had to do it.

Muhammad has wanted to travel more to help others since he came back from a humanitarian trip to Uganda with “Change the Truth” a few years ago, but the price was always an issue. When the TOMS campaign presented itself, Muhammad was immediately interested.

“Change the Truth” was a service trip that Muhammad went on a few years ago after he heard about it from a student in Coalition, a club he sponsors. The went to Uganda for eight days on a service trip where Muhammad’s task was to teach the kids karate. Throughout the trip, he was bonding with kids and teaching them new skills, while others on the trip taught them other skills besides karate.

The TOMS company’s motto is “One for One,” something Muhammad made sure he understood before he invested his money in their product and created a profile on their website to campaign for the trip. Any pair of shoes that is purchased from TOMS is another pair that is automatically sent to a person in need of a new pair of shoes in a different part of the world.

“If you’re supporting something with your dollars,” Muhammad said. “That’s a sign of something you believe in and people should know what they are giving their money to.”

Muhammad’s friend Jeneé Osterheldt of the Kansas City Star, who has always given him support and advice, encouraged him to create a profile so he could have the opportunity to go a trip that would hopefully make him come back a better human. To get the word out, Muhammad used Twitter, Facebook and went into other classes to encourage them to vote.

“[Osterheldt] told me ‘People know who Mr.Mu is; brand yourself,’” Muhammad said, “But I didn’t think I was going to get in.”

People from all over the world supported Muhammad. He received support from his family, students at East, people from the karate school he helps teach at, his religious community, friends from college, even a friend from Saudi Arabia and Uganda.

“My wife definitely thinks I’m an idealistic young guy and excited for me to go on the trip,” Muhammad said “But she’s nervous and hopes I won’t be in harm’s way.”

After all of the votes were tallied on the final day, Muhammad had received 1,942 votes and was 35th in the competition. He made it into the top 50 and will be traveling to help the TOMS organization before the end of the year. They will be fitting kids for shoes, giving them new shoes and spending time with them while experiencing the culture of the country. None of this would have been possible without all of the votes Muhammad received from all over the world.

Muhammad is still amazed that he received so many votes and is able to be a part of and help TOMS. Students Muhammad had never seen before were coming up to him in the hall telling him that they voted for him and which he said was a really humbling experience for him.

“I really wanted to help him out because he works a lot with the community and does anything to help out others,” junior Sage Thompson said.

Muhammad does not know where he will be going yet, but trips from previous years have been in Argentina, Honduras, Dominican Republic and Brazil. Muhammad would be happy anywhere he ends up going since all of the expenses will be paid for. He hopes to come back enlightened from his experience of helping those who are less fortunate.

“It will be interesting to see what his views are on the TOMS organization itself and global poverty once he gets back,” senior Helena Buchmann said, “His opinion was definitely changed about Uganda when he got back. The trip just recharges him on his views on global poverty and other issues Coalition is trying to combat.”

During free time on the trip, he hopes to teach some of the kids karate and have a fun time being in a completely new environment. Muhammad hopes to immerse himself in the culture over the trip and will choose from five possible locations once his background check is processed.

“It’s work, it’s not like a vacation, it’s definitely hard work,” Muhammad said. “Beyond just the shoes you’re trying to get a taste for what they go through daily.”

The trip will be scheduled for sometime this summer up until December and he will travel with nine others from the top 50 for the trip to make it easier with a smaller group. Muhammad hopes to go during July or over winter break so he can continue to teach during the school year.

“You can’t be human if you’re not humane, a humanitarian trip will make me more humane which will make me a better human,” Muhammad said. “When you’re not doing any of that you’re actually not a human being, you’re just a body that’s just taking up space and being selfish.”

Muhammad hopes to come back from his trip enlightened, inspired, humbled and maybe even a little tanner.

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Hannah Ratliff

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Senior Hannah Ratliff is an A&E Page Editor for the Shawnee Mission East Harbinger. This is her second semester on staff. She enjoys visiting new places, watching action movies and being with her dogs. Read Full »

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