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Shoes for Africa (10 Apr 2015)

Summer of 2014, Dubai student 17-year-old Aaron Van Veen visited Raey for the first 

time. While searching the internet for a school in Africa to volunteer at during their 

summer break he and his family stumbled upon the Raey Foundation in Ethiopia. They 

decided to help out for two weeks during the July summer school.

Aaron’s parents are from the Netherlands and India and he and his sister have lived in 

both Canada and Dubai. Despite being widely travelled, they were initially shocked by 

the poverty endured by all in the Raey community. 

“It was an incredible experience seeing firsthand how these children live,” says Aaron. 

“Some of them are the same age as my sister yet our lives are so different. In the 

beginning we all found it really sad and shocking. But over the two weeks we spent at 

Raey we got to know them all better, could better understand their situation and even 

make some strong bonds with some of the children. It was soon clear that although 

many live in unimaginable poverty the children are so happy and grateful. It made 

volunteering so rewarding.”

For Aaron and his family, the most pressing problem for the students was their 

footwear. “Every child’s shoes were broken, badly fitted and filthy.” They came up with 

the Raey Shoe Project. 

“The idea is to provide each child with brand new school shoes made from good quality 

leather and properly fitted. The problem has always been getting pairs of shoes enough 

for each child through Ethiopian customs so we decided to find a local retailer instead – 

not only would this help the children of Raey, it will also boost the local economy.”

Aaron found a local shoe producer - Peacock Shoes - online and he and his family visited 

their staff and factory to discuss the project. It was agreed that one of the staff at 

Peacock Shoes would visit the school and make individual measurements. They were 

quoted USD11 per pair of shoes.

Aaron went back to school – the Jumeirah English Speaking School (JESS) in Dubai - and 

took on the project with fellow classmates Andon Alepoudakis, Brad Evans, Scott 

Anderson and Patrick Seabrook. Their aim is to raise AED12,000, enough to buy 285 

pairs of shoes in time for the next academic year (September 2015).

“Fundraising has only just begun and we have already made AED2,850. In the coming 

months we have planned garage sales, sponsored runs, flea markets and charity 

dinners. We feel confident we will achieve our goal.”

“Since my visit to Raey last summer, I feel extremely grateful and aware that nothing 

should be taken for granted. I have also realised how important it is to try and help 

these children at Raey - they have very little and we have so much. To give them each a 

pair of shoes is the least we can do.”