Monday, February 27, 2012

Taking My TOMS to Ghana

By Colby Smith, Assistant Account Executive and Photographer/Videographer

I get questions about all sorts of stereotypes, generalizations and mistruths after I tell people I studied abroad in Africa:

Africa is a country. Safaris. Starving children with guns. Jungles surround you. People speak in tongues.

And of course I have to tell people I studied in Africa, because if I tell them Ghana I get, "Um … you studied where?"

School children and me while we were visiting the Kwame Nkrumah Memorial. 
Africa, in fact, is NOT a country. I am guilty of going on a safari, but not on top of a Land Rover. I spent most of my time in dirty taxis, and I’m not exaggerating. Ghanaian taxis are full of dirt.

As corny as it sounds, Africa has always had a special place in my heart. I was lucky enough to be in an international studies program in high school, where for an entire semester I learned about Africa and fell in love.

While I was taking my African studies course, a new shoe company called TOMS was just starting up. I was super interested, did some research and found for every pair of shoes you buy, TOMS gives a pair to a child in need.

I was floored. What an amazing idea! Although they started out giving in South America, I hoped they would expand to Africa – and they did. I crossed my fingers all throughout high school that they would survive as a company, because I knew I needed to be involved.

When I began school at Chico State, I looked into options to fulfill my dream of going to Africa, which proved to be out of my budget. But by some miracle, I landed the Gilman Scholarship last year and was able to pay for my trip.

Though extremely broke now, I wouldn’t take back a penny. The culture is warm, happy and blossoming. Accra, the capital of Ghana, is a bustling city. The students at the University of Ghana are the friendliest people I have ever come across. As a soccer player and photographer, Ghana was gold.

I volunteered at a school, where my fellow students and I were able to teach lessons. The children were the highlight of my trip.

But my eye-opening experience was when I traveled to Larabanga, a small village in northern Ghana. It was almost as if I was in a different country. You read in the news about people living in shacks and shipping containers, but it is entirely different to witness it. The kids in the village were swarmed with flies, had  tattered clothes – and they were shoeless.

Not only did I return to the U.S. with the most humbling experience I have ever had, but with burning inspiration.

So here I am. After this semester, I have one year of college left and a new dream: getting TOMS to do a shoe drop in Ghana.

 My favorite little boy from Larabanga.


  1. I'm so jealous of you! That seems like such a cool, life changing experience.

  2. Not bad! (Senyo Amuzu)

  3. I'm wearing my TOMS right now! I love that you studied abroad in a bit of an unconventional country, and were able to link an interest of yours to this area.

  4. Amewugah Prince HenryFebruary 28, 2012 at 1:29 AM

    wow! humbled by your summary of experience in Ghana. And am touched by your project. Didnt know u were moved that much discovering the real Ghana....And by saying "real Ghana" I mean Larabanga and the likes - not Accra

  5. colby how is your TOMS shoe project going?