A campaign in Bhutan led by a Bhutanese entrepreneur is collecting used shoes and cleaning them to distribute the footwear to those who cannot afford a decent pair. Help Shoe Bhutan has so far given shoes to nearly 1 percent of the country's population of 740,000.
The story begins with Sandeep Gajakas, an engineer from India, who founded the concept of shoe laundry. Gajakas saw that some people did not make an effort to clean their shoes. If they expect someone else to do it for them, then it is certainly a feasible business model. In 2003, he started India's first professional footwear laundry and refurbishing service for all types of footwear in Mumbai. So far, its ShoeVival franchise has expanded to 10 cities in three countries.
Young Bhutanese entrepreneur Dawa Drakpa brought ShoeVival to Bhutan in 2011. Bhutanese blogger Passang Tshering narrates what happened next:
His parents had sent him to get a degree in BSc Nursing from Bangalore [India], but to their disappointment he returned from Mumbai with a shoe laundry franchise, and without the degree. Unimaginable, but that's the strangeness of destiny. [..]
Overnight he turned what was earlier perceived as ‘dirty job’ into a sexy profession.
Dawa Drakpa writes in his blog about the initial struggles and how his venture started the social business called Help Shoe Bhutan. Drakpa saw a lot of shoes in a trash yard and thought a good portion of them could be recycled and reused. In rural Bhutan, many children walk for miles without decent shoes to go to school. Farmers often work the field without wearing shoes because they cannot afford footwear.
The old shoe collection campaign began in September 2011. In Drakpa's words:
The intention was clear-
1. Collect as many old shoes.
2. Revive them.
3. and finally distribute them among the people who cannot afford a decent pair of shoe.
Drakpa recalls how many Bhutanese organisations, businesses and individuals came forward to help the effort by providing funding or just a helping hand. The cleaning and repairing of the shoes cost as little as Nu. 80 (US $1.30) per pair, a service Drakpa's Shoe Laundry business is providing. Bhutan Dragons Motorcycle Club joined as a distribution partner to deliver the shoes to rural areas that needed them. He narrates how its members rode together in a charity ride in cold and foggy weather to distribute the footwear and other items in Samtse district in southwest Bhutan.
The first distribution was in March 2012. Drakpa writes:
The distribution team reached there around 3pm. And the children started standing in queue. Even at this moment, i was not very sure how those shoes will be accepted. [...] There were different kinds of shoes- adults, kids, flip flops, boots, leather shoes and the list goes on. [...] Help-Shoe Bhutan took 221 pairs of cleaned and repaired shoes.
Kids came one at a time to try out shoes… They were very excited, we could clearly see that the kids and adults as well were choosing their shoes even before their turn came to try out their shoes. Soon kids and adults rushed towards the shoes and the view looked more like a fish market. Having said that, it was indeed a honor for us, the distributing team.
The Help Shoe Bhutan team also distributed shoes to Zhemgang, the poorest district in Bhutan. Drakpa recalls:
We made it a point not to miss a single person leave the room without getting a pair of shoes. The distribution began with Bardo Tshogpa calling the names according to the house hold names. There are 68 households in Bardo gewog. And approximately 300 people. The charity goods include shoes, clothes, toys, New blankets, sweets, biscuits etc.
The first campaign, which ran until May 2012, distributed about 1,300 pairs of shoes. Help Shoe Bhutan's second campaign was launched in June 2012 by Her Royal Highness Princess Chimi Yangzom Wangchuck with a plan of distributing 2,000 pairs. The initiative is ongoing, with the total number distributed as of May 21, 2014, standing at 5,996.
We are just trying to empower the students themselves to take care of their own shoes.
It is often said “give a man fish, he will feed for a day. Teach him how to fish, he will start a fish shop and feed his neighbourhood”
You can follow the project via its Facebook page.