(January 10, 2022) It was yet another day for the world at large. Not for Bengaluru girl Sia Godika though. She has a special surprise awaiting her – an invitation to London to receive the Diana Legacy Award for her initiative Sole Warriors that provides shoes to the needy. In just two years, the 15-year-old’s initiative has created a global movement – donating 21,000 pairs of shoes to the disadvantaged. “I literally fell off the chair reading the email about winning the Diana Legacy Award. I was so surprised and honoured. I couldn’t believe that I was even eligible,” Sia says to Global Indian in an exclusive.
The big news came just five months after she had already got the Diana Award in June 2021 along with 400 other youngsters from across the globe. Being considered one of the highest honours for social action, it has put Sia among the list of future leaders.
It was in the fall of 2019 that Sole Warriors took a life of its own after Sia decided to help the needy by collecting used shoes, refurbishing and donating them. “Finding a solution to a problem that affects a larger population is important, and that’s what I did with Sole Warriors,” says Sia.
Putting the right foot forward
How Sole Warriors galvanises its support is also credible. “We have a huge network of volunteers – Robin Hood Army and Indian Ploggers Army – who help us with the process of collection and distribution,” reveals Sia.
The hard, cracked and worn-out feet of construction workers’ children in Sia’s locality stirred this Koramangala girl into action. “It broke my heart to see them running barefoot on the streets. I rushed home to find some pairs of shoes that I could give them. Seeing my shoe rack, it dawned upon me that I had so many pairs stacked up which I wasn’t even wearing anymore,” says the Neev Academy student. It gnawed on her till she had to do something about it. “I started researching, and found that according to WHO stats, 1.5 billion people worldwide don’t have shoes to wear, and around 350 million pairs of shoes are discarded each year,” says Sia, who was left aghast with the numbers.
What began as a dinner table conversation with her parents soon took the form of the Sole Warriors initiative. “My parents asked me to come up with a concrete plan regarding collection and distribution, and research on it. This gave me a sense of purpose,” reveals Sia. Within a month, Sia launched it at a Kormangala apartment, and collected 500 pairs. “It was a huge boost, knowing that I was going in the right direction after a month of making posters to spread the word, and connecting with volunteers on WhatsApp,” she adds.
Soon word spread, and she was added to many groups on WhatsApp and this helped intensify the initiative. With hundreds of shoes collected per week, Godika had to find a solution to refurbish them. Approaching local cobblers was her initial fix, but she soon found sponsors in Pressto Cobblers. “I came across the store, and on a whim, decided to meet the manager who was more than happy to help us. They decided to sponsor us,” chirps an ecstatic Sia.
Slowly, but surely making little feet matter
Still in its nascent stage, Sole Warriors faced some hiccups at the beginning of the lockdown in March 2020. Yet, they flung into action after pushing the pause button for a few weeks. “We continued collecting shoes, sanitising them and (even) quarantining them for a handful of days before sending them for distribution to the needy people,” informs the Diana Legacy Award-winner who also helped create jobs for slum dwellers with her initiative. “Through this, we allowed slum dwellers to become ‘sole’ entrepreneurs wherein they could sell a pair of refurbished shoes for Rs 50, and earn an income,” explains the activist.
Many stepped up to help Sia with the initiative. Though she cannot thank G Nagaraj aka Plog Raj (the founder of Indian Ploggers Army) enough. “From helping me get in touch with volunteers, to identify areas where we could distribute shoes, he helped me immensely,” says the Diana Award winner. After her successful stint in Bengaluru, she opened chapters in Chennai and Mumbai. Sia is now ready to spread her wings to West Africa and the US. “It was during the Diana Award ceremony that I met Abdullah O Bility, a co-winner from Liberia. He got to know about my initiative, and was happy to help me with the distribution in his country,” exclaims Sia, who will soon be sending the first lot of refurbished shoes from the US to Liberia (as sending from India was ridden with snags).
The 15-year-old found support in a family friend in Boston who is busy collecting shoes for Sole Warriors from public schools and communities, and would soon be sending them to Abdullah in Liberia. “I am so happy that the initiative is going international, and more people are joining in,” adds Sia who is hoping to expand to the UK soon.
When shoestrings make a difference
Born in 2006 in North Carolina to engineer parents, Godika moved to Bengaluru as a year-old toddler. “My parents had moved to the US in their youth to study, and worked there for a couple of years. In the late 2000s, they shifted back to Bengaluru to be closer to the family,” says the Class 10 student who found them as the greatest of support systems. “My mom has been quite inspiring in this journey of mine, and always asked me to follow my heart. My dad drove me around collecting and distributing shoes until we had things in place,” she smiles.
When she is not busy with Sole Warriors or school, Sia loves to curl up with a book. A student of Bangalore School of Speech and Drama too, the teenager is a trained Bharatanatyam dancer, and passionate about theatre. With two months to her boards, Godika has her eyes set on pursuing finance and economics. “Economics is my favourite subject. That’s what I intend to pursue,” adds the social activist who calls Sole Warriors a necessity in life rather than a profession.
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