What started out as one family's vacation to East Africa quickly transformed into a time of giving back — thanks in part to the generosity of a Southeast business.
Pawling residents Dave and Donna Zublin had always wanted to travel to Africa, and their dream came true late last month. They embarked on a two-week trip with their daughter Kristen Zublin, but not before thinking of the people they would come in contact with during their travels. The trio knew they wanted to arrive bearing gifts of some sort — but the nature of those gifts was something with which they struggled.
“We knew we wanted to do something so we researched and read for some sort of guidance,” Donna said. “Initially we thought about donating paper, pens and crayons, but most children living in rural African don’t go to school.”
Knowing their donation was constrained by at least two factors — the supplies would have to fit into one duffel bag, and food was not an option — the Zublins looked for other options to make an impact. Kristen, who attends Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa., reached out to a field hockey teammate who had spent some time at orphanage in Tanzania.
“She [the teammate] told Kristen that all the kids wanted were Crocs,” Dave said. “That answered our question.”
Dave contacted Crocs Retail, Inc. to see if they would be willing to make a donation. Though the company agreed, he decided to take an alternative path to forego the paperwork process.
It was through the help of a close friend at that the Zublins were able to secure nearly 40 pairs of Crocs to fill their duffle bag. Ski Haus owner Ross Nichols said Dave, who owns Old Town Barns in Pawling, initially asked to purchase the shoes, but the former was willing to donate them instead because he thought it was a great cause.
"We were moved by the generosity and thoughtfulness that Dave exhibited and told him that we would donate the Crocs," Nichols said.
Even with the Crocs in hand, the family was still unsure of where and how to pass off the shoes. After two weeks in East Africa, the Zublins received a tip from a fellow traveler about an orphanage located in Kenya. On the family’s very last day, they visited the Nyumbani Children’s Home, a refuge for orphaned children — many of whom are living with serious illnesses.
Nyumbani, which means “home” in Swahili, provides medical, psychological and academic care to nearly 100 children until they can look after themselves. According to the home's website, most of the children living at the orphanage are infected with HIV and AIDS, while others were abandoned by their families after registering a false-positive test at birth.
Dave said the section in East Africa that he and his family visited has been exposed to international fundraising and that Crocs are "a big deal" to children living there.
“When the word ‘Crocs’ got mentioned — oh boy,” Dave said. “It was a tough place to go visit, but it was pretty cool to see the excitement of the kids.”
Nichols said he was more than happy to donate the Crocs on behalf of the Ski Haus.
"To bring a little bit of joy to people whose entire lives have been a struggle is very gratifying."