One Man’s Trash Is Another Man’s Treasure (Part III)

Excerpt from “Wild Hope Now” by Danielle Butin, Founder of Afya.

Black Shoes

Tanzania, 2016

Wild Hope Now

One day, I noticed that the hotel had packed far too much food into the car for us that day. “Guidelines,” I said, pointing to a group of kids playing soccer in a nearby field, “can we please pull up to those children and give them all of this leftover food and water?”

[“Guidelines” was the nickname we gave to our rule-bound but enjoyable driver, Ahmed.]

“You want to do what?” he asked.

At home in New York, this is my family’s customary practice. We leave a restaurant, have leftovers packed up, and find someone who might be hungry on the street and offer whatever we can. The Moshi area, where we were staying in Tanzania, is a center for tourism, the gateway to Kilimanjaro, and a center for coffee plantations and production. All that being said, Tanzania is still a place where the poverty rate is high, and many people could use extra food.

Guidelines drove us over to the field, and we all handed bags and boxes of food to the children. I asked Guidelines to let the children figure out sharing (my Swahili is terrible), and they carried bags of food away, giggling and grateful….

As we were getting ready to leave Moshi, Guidelines had to stop for gas. The smell of burnt charcoal filled the air, and the streets were full of women wrapped in brightly colored fabrics, carrying fruit in baskets on their heads and babies on their backs. Music played while people sold essentials on the dirt road off wooden crates for tables.

As we pulled into the one gas station in Moshi, I knew we were sitting ducks. Because of its proximity to Kilimanjaro, Moshi has a huge pool of transient customers. As we sat in the van, 20 men immediately rushed around us, each of them trying to sell us the same items. The men shouted their offers through our open windows — all of them trying to sell the same cheap made-in-China trinkets.

I couldn’t stop myself. “You guys, I appreciate your eagerness to make a sale, but I’m not going to buy anything. I would like to talk and offer some ideas — would that be OK?”


They all seem confused. This wasn’t how things normally go.

“You guys need to work as a team to come up with a better and coordinated plan to sell goods to tourists. Everyone running to one customer, selling the same items, is too hard and not productive. Tourists see these same supplies everywhere here for sale. Maybe some artists in the village can make some items that are unique, and you can sell those? People want to buy handmade special items for their loved ones at home.”

The men got quiet, nodded, and gathered closer.

We talked about the way their whole enterprise was set up. I asked if it worked, how much money they made, and how much they wanted to make. We imagined creating an outdoor market square area together, where they could merge, join forces to sell work that local artisans might create. It could become a place to stop, a destination for tourists coming to the majestic mountain.

I didn’t buy anything, but we had a real conversation through the tiny jeep window.

In areas where few income producing options exit, it’s very hard to imagine what could be, especially when the basics of survival are so challenging. Our talk opened a door to possibility. The resources were already there, as they knew the local weavers and artisans.

I noticed a teenager in the crowd, younger than all the other men. I called him over to the van window.

“Hello,” I said, “How old are you?”


“If you’re 14,” I asked, “Isn’t this a school day? You’re not in school.”

The young man dropped his head and looked at the ground as he answered.

“I can’t go to school because I don’t have black shoes.”

“I don’t understand,” I said.

“My parents don’t have the money to buy me black shoes,” he told me. “I have to wear them to be able to enter school. Every student must wear black shoes.”

I turned to Guidelines for confirmation. He nodded and said, “It’s true.”

“You realize how incredibly strong your English is?” I asked.

“I really like learning languages and studying,” he answered, smiling. “I practice my English when I sell.”

All I could think about were the possibilities for this child, and the ways those possibilities would be limited if he couldn’t go to school.

“How much do black shoes cost here?” I asked Guidelines.

“Five US dollars,” he told me.

The average salary in Tanzania is $173 USD per month — an amount that barely covers housing, let alone food or clothing for a family, never mind school fees and additional costs, like black shoes for growing children.

“If you had money to buy black shoes, where would go right now to get them?” I asked.

He pointed to a clothing market up the street. There, 100 yards away, was a mountain of black shoes.

“If I give you five dollars, would you go get those shoes now?” I asked.

“You would give me money to go buy shoes?” he asked, his eyes welling up with tears.

“Yes,” I said, “I believe in you and your future, and going to school is going to make that future happen.” I handed him Tanzanian shillings.

“Listen,” I said, handing him the money. “When your parents see you come home later with black shoes, ready to return to school tomorrow, please just tell them the truth. You met someone while selling today who was blown away by your ability to speak English, your interest in learning, and she wanted to help you get back to school. She gave you the money specifically for shoes. Go back to school and stay, because it is your ticket for more.”

He nodded, hopped on his bicycle, holding the money tight in his hand, and rode with speed and determination up the hill.

I wish I had been able to help every single person gathered around that van in Moshi, but I don’t have delusions of grandeur. At the core of my beliefs in Afya is: one person at a time counts — one person at a time matters.

We left the gas station and we all stayed very quiet… [then] Guidelines spoke up.

“That kid is never going to forget this moment,” he told me. “For the rest of his life, he will remember the day that a stranger saw something so special in him that she invested in his future. He’s going to tell people this story until he’s an old man.”

As we left Moshi, our van was filled with a myriad of emotions — anger, sadness, a lack of justice, but gratitude as well, all at once.

About Danielle Butin and Afya

Danielle Butin’s life changed with a simple idea on the plains of the Serengeti. At the time, she had no idea it would change millions of other people’s lives, too. Surrounded by poverty, Butin saw how people can die simply due to a lack of medical supplies.

As a former healthcare executive in the US, she knew firsthand about the waste of medical resources in the US. Everything from unused IV lines to incubators are discarded because of regulations. With the insight to match surplus to need, Butin founded the Afya Foundation. For 16 years, her team has been diverting unused medical supplies. They take useful, sterile items labeled as waste and deliver them where they can save lives.

Subscribe to the newsletter so that you never miss an uplifting story of medical humanitarians improving lives worldwide.

About Angels in Medicine

Angels in Medicine is a volunteer site dedicated to the humanitarians, heroes, angels, and bodhisattvas of medicine. The site features physicians, nurses, physician assistants and other healthcare workers and volunteers who reach people without the resources or opportunities for quality care, such as teens, the poor, the incarcerated, the elderly, or those living in poor or war-torn regions. Read their stories at

Interested in writing for Angels in Medicine? Know about an Angel we should interview? Drop me a note at

Leave a Comment