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No shoes? No problem

Student members of Nicaraguan Orphans Fund show solidarity by going barefoot

<p>NOF, a part of the Orphan Network, serves around 380 orphaned children in Nicaragua, and provides them with food, shelter and education.</p>

NOF, a part of the Orphan Network, serves around 380 orphaned children in Nicaragua, and provides them with food, shelter and education.

This week, students faced glass-littered streets and gum-covered sidewalks with bare feet and a mind set on one goal — to raise awareness for orphans in Nicaragua.

“Barefoot Week” is the culminating event of the CIO Nicaraguan Orphan Fund’s awareness campaign.

“We fundraise on behalf of our parent organization, Orphan Network, a nonprofit that works in Nicaragua on initiatives like medicine and education,” Caroline Chisholm, third-year College student and co-events coordinator for NOF, said. “Our year culminates in a spring break trip after a year of fundraising. JMU and [Virginia] Tech also have NOF chapters at their school, and between all of us around 60 students travel to Nicaragua.”

NOF, a part of the Orphan Network, serves around 380 orphaned children in Nicaragua, and provides them with food, shelter and education.

The fundraising varies based on where the group goes, Abigail Suit, a fourth-year College student and NOF president, said.

“Between my second and third trip, all of our fundraising went to paying off their mortgage. They completely revamped the entire building… We were speechless,” Suit said. “They expanded classrooms, built a new office, and installed a feeding center. It was so incredible… Even this year, they went even further and they have an afterschool tutoring spot, where kids can learn.”

Third-year College student Colleen Adenan serves as one of the trip planners, working to develop English activities to facilitate while in Nicaragua and figuring out what questions to ask the trip-goers. While she had been involved in NOF previously, Adenan said her perspective changed after actually traveling.

“It clicked for me in Nicaragua,” Adenan said. “On the third day we started teaching English to them. Before that we had just been playing with them, but teaching English was much more of a meaningful impact than I think we usually have. It was a nice feeling for me.”

In addition to walking around barefoot this week, members of NOF hosted events and fundraisers throughout the week, including an Insomnia Cookies night, Grit Coffee day, a Lawn hang-out, free raffles and a two-mile race.

“Since the beginning of the year, we wanted to incorporate more awareness events,” Suit said. “It will be cool, because people literally just have to post a picture on Facebook and they are entered into a raffle. It will give us a chance to talk a little bit more. Spreading awareness for communities in Nicaragua is huge. Maybe it will push someone to want to get involved.”

Third-year College student and trip coordinator Monika Zinn took a different approach to raising awareness and began using social media sites like Twitter.

“I have been live-tweeting which sidewalks are best and worst to walk on,” Zinn said. “I happen to live in one of the worst areas in terms of shards of glass on the ground, so I have been keeping Twitter up to date with my struggles.”

While the children in the orphanage they visit do, in fact, have shoes, NOF members go barefoot to show their solidarity with those who may not.

“I think it’s easy to, once we leave Nicaragua, forget about what’s going on there,” Zinn said. “This is a really good way to bring it back to them very quickly. It’s more a reminder of the extreme poverty that's there, and it’s the people who aren’t engaged who don’t have shoes. This is one way to make it visible to other people.”

To Chisholm, the relationships she has been able to build have made her involvement in NOF worthwhile.

“There’s a kid I saw my first year during spring break and when I returned my second year, he remembered me,” Chisholm said. “This summer I had the opportunity to volunteer with a nonprofit in Managua, and I got to see him three years in a row which was was really cool. Knowing the kids remember you, and seeing something click in their mind… that’s why we keep going back. Those are the faces you remember when you’re walking barefoot.”