We’ve all seen the heartbreaking images from news outlets around the world. Flimsy rubber rafts full of wet and exhausted men, women, and children washing ashore with nothing but the clothes on their backs.
Around the world, millions of displaced persons seek refuge and safety from the horrors of war. The problem is so big and so overwhelming we’re tempted to look away, wring our hands, and lament our inability to help. After all, what can one person do?
Meet Maker, Upcycler, and one person, Andrea Boyko. Like the rest of us, Andrea saw the crisis unfold on the pages of the newspaper and on the nightly news, but instead of turning away, she turned on her sewing machine and got to work.
A former school teacher turned small business owner, Andrea finds materials destined for landfills and turns them into useful (and super cute) items to sell in her Belchertown, MA store.
As the horrifying images filled her screen, Andrea noticed one thing some of us missed. Many of the children were barefoot.
Andrea told the Daily Hampshire Gazette, “It’s easy to look away when there is a crisis that seems so big that there is nothing that you can to do help. This crisis in Syria, there is nothing I can do to stop it or help all these people leaving their homes,” Boyko said. “There is one small thing that I knew how to do, which is make shoes, so that’s what I’m doing.”
Andrea’s “Muck Shoes” are made from repurposed bicycle inner tubes and a mix of recycled and new fabrics and textiles. She sells the popular item in her store and on Etsy. Andrea pledged to make 50 pairs of shoes and get them to children living in a refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos.
Also from the Daily Hampshire Gazette, “The families who are in these camps had to leave their homes,” Boyko said. “They didn’t have much time. They have just what they can carry on their backs. Kids grow, they grow out of their shoes, there are not as many resources as there should to be help them. This is just one small way I thought that I could help the kids there.”
After the first 50 pairs of shoes were delivered, she continued her work, making shoes and toys for the children who live in the camp. But she still wasn’t finished. Armed with a sewing machine, she and her family traveled to Lesbos in June.
Since the crisis began more than 500,000 displaced people have passed through the tiny island in Greece. The once popular tourist destination struggles to provide for the new arrivals and support local residents because tourists who once bolstered the economy now stay away.
For three weeks, Andrea taught basic sewing workshops, including the secret to making her durable Muck Shoes. She created helpful items to use around camp and a marketable product that camp residents could sell to earn an income. Many of those products started as piles of rubber dinghies and life jackets. More than ten acres of the material litters the island, all left by the thousands of people who passed through Lesbos since 2015.
Some of the items include:
Soccer balls made from colorful pieces of life vests and stuffed with plastic life vest foam.
A swing from the bottom of a dinghy and life jacket straps.
Cushions made from dinghies and stuffed with life vest foam to soften the hard plywood “furniture” used throughout the camp.
Andrea saw kids without shoes half a world away and did something about it. We salute Andrea and wish her well as she continues her journey to help those need.
If you’d like to help, Andrea is looking for supplies, financial donations, and expertise. Email Andrea at firstname.lastname@example.org
Learn more about her story at the Bula Jean’s Boutique Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/Bula-Jeans-Boutique-183782958307742/
All pictures are used with permission.