Photography by Maggie Fuller Photography
Meet Rachel. She is Beauty Revived.
|If your shoes could talk, what would they say? Would they tell a heartbreaking story of leaving your home, your country, and your belongings because it was the only safe option for your family?
Rachel has listened to these stories first hand from families and children arriving in Tampa from countries all over the world via the U.S. refugee resettlement program. She has also listened to this story from her own father who emigrated from Togo, West Africa, in 1996.
Rachel has witnessed her mother, Florence, welcome refugees from Burma, Syria, Congo, Somali, Cuba, Sudan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Colombia and many other countries through her role as the State Refugee Health Coordinator, but mainly during their family volunteer work with refugees.
Rachel noticed that the children arriving had very few personal items and shared everything with their siblings. “When they can only bring very little from their home country, shoes are usually one of the things they have to sacrifice” says Rachel “so I wanted to do something that will make them smile and feel good” she added.
Rachel’s mom oversees a program run by volunteers that supports newly arrived refugee families in many ways; including but not limited to helping navigate the medical system and setting up health care, learning to prepare for the Florida hurricane season, and learning about the American culture while also sharing their own culture through the creation of unique arts that the women sell to get supplemental income while learning English and about their new homes. The program, called RAMWI (Refugee And Migrant Women’s Initiative), offers a safe place for learning and social interaction between the refugee women, their children, and the volunteer community members.
Making others feel accepted is also personal to Rachel, “My dad came as a refugee a long time ago and people welcomed him, so I want the refugees to feel welcomed too.” To help the children feel welcomed Rachel wanted to collect new shoes to give the children upon their arrival. She thought the National Welcoming Week event would be the perfect place to begin! Tampa Bay celebrated National Welcoming Week in the fall of 2016. This nationwide event takes place in communities all over the world; it is a time to celebrate diversity, highlight the contributions of immigrants and refugees in American communities, and encourages all people to be welcoming of refugees and others.
At 10 years old, Rachel lead a community wide shoe drive and raised over 500 pairs of shoes that were donated for the event! The theme of the event was, “Small Shoes, Big Journey”. It focused on the experiences of refugee children & youth and over 700 people were in attendance. Rachel alongside 5 other individuals, were recognized with “Welcomer Awards” for the daily work they do of welcoming refugees into our community.
Rachel’s kindness shines through as she says “I want to give out new pairs of shoes to remind the children that they have a new future, a good life waiting for them in our community, here in America. The old shoes will symbolize their old life, when they were afraid and on the run.” The shoe drive also turned into an art project where the refugee children painted and decorated their old shoes that were then showcased during the welcoming week event. Through this simple act of giving out a pair of shoes, a community was brought together in a welcoming movement.
Rachel continues to help the refugee community by joining her mother in women initiatives as well as collecting more shoes and hygiene articles. Rachel lives in Tampa, FL with her parents and her sister and brother. To learn more about her humanitarian efforts, write to her at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Photographer
Maggie is a natural light family photographer exploring the Tampa Bay area with local families. She fills her beloved annual photo album with storyboards of her personal family adventures to the local dairy farm, strawberry fields, and favorite Florida beaches.