My son Sal was slow to walk, he was almost two when in the space of a day he went from crawling to the front door with me in the morning as I left for walk and running full speed at me as I arrived back that evening. As ingrained in us, off we trotted to the children's shoe shop to have his feet measured and to purchase his first pair of shoes. Then I bought the second pair, in case he soaked through the first, jumping in puddles, and I couldn't dry them out before he attended nursery the next day. Then he was asked to be a page boy and received another pair, to be worn once, along with the three piece suit. Pretty soon I had accumulated a bag full of shoes, outgrown and gently worn but with so much wear still left in them.
I contacted a few charities that collected shoes, none of which could tell me where my son's shoes would end up walking again if I donated them. This troubled me. It also coincided with a friend of a friend posting a thank you on her Facebook page - Anna was volunteering in Zambia on a children's oncology ward, the only of its kind in the whole country. Her aunt in America had sent the kids boxes of Lego and Anna was saying a public thank you for the delighted faces when they opened their packages. I contacted her and asked her if she thought kids shoes would we well received, and she did.
Sal's birthday was approaching and in lieu of presents - he was turning two and was completely unaware of the fanfare surrounding the event - I asked my friends to have a root around at home and bring along any kids shoes they had that were no longer worn by their children. I boxed up the shoes and posted them to Anna, and to be honest, really thought no more about it.
Three weeks later, Anna emailed me to say the shoes had arrived and she had distributed them amongst the children, many of whom received their first pair of shoes that day. Anna could not put into words the response of the kids and so had taken photographs of them wearing their new shoes. One little boy was wearing Sal's shoes; Sal's first pair of shoes had become those of another.
As unsentimental as I like to think I am, it was heart warming: it feels good to do good. I wanted my friends who had donated shoes to share my emotions, so I posted the photos on my personal Facebook page, tagging those friends who had brought along shoes to Sal's birthday party, to let them know where the shoes had found new feet. My friends commented on the album, and shared it, and 24 hours later I had a steady stream of messages from friends and friends of friends all asking how they could get their kids outgrown shoes to me so that I could pass them on.
I organised another collection of shoes and sent them off to friends who run a farm in rural Zambia and employ a workforce resulting in over a 1,000 people living on the farm, half of which are under the age of 12. Sandy emailed me photos from the distribution day, hordes of sunny faces, proudly displaying their 'new' shoes. And so I posted another album, and so the steady stream of enquiries snowballed: Sal's Shoes had been born.
CJ Bowry founded Sal's Shoes in 2012, collecting children's outgrown shoes and finding them new feet. In its first year, Sal's Shoes collected 4,805 pairs of shoes and found them new feet in eight countries including the UK.
CJ was shortlisted and highly commended by the judges in the Social & Humanitarian category at this year's Asian Women of Achievement Awards for her work.