Soroptimist International Damansara and MR DIY give new life to old shoes under Walk with Style project

“The big-picture vision is to take the sustainability awareness learning to schoolchildren."

Students turning the donated shoes into wearable art (All photos: Low Yen Yeing/ The Edge Malaysia)

The new school term just started last week but Sekolah Kebangsaan Segambut Makmur is all abuzz with a special art activity. The excitement is palpable as the students get ready with plastic aprons, colouring tools and a few ideas brewing in their heads. Within minutes, they are hunched over their blank canvas — a pair of white shoes — and carefully applying paint with dexterous brushstrokes. They are creating their very own wearable art.

According to Nisha Dobberstein, president of Soroptimist International Damansara (SID), the idea was first mooted with its corporate partner MR DIY last October.

“The company had about 4,000 pairs of white canvas shoes that had discoloured over time and could not be sold. In a discussion with our team, the plan of embarking on a shoe painting project with children was decided upon.”

The premise of the project was to take the shoes to primary schools and get the children to paint on them. MR DIY not only provided the shoes, but also kindly threw in non-toxic waterproof paint as well as the tools and materials needed for the project.


President of Soroptimist International Damansara Nisha Dobberstein

As the SID team embarked on the project, it came up with the upcycling idea because it wanted to teach the children a thing or two about repurposing and reusing instead of throwing an item away.

“What started out as a project to make good use of the white shoes has morphed into an upcycling awareness initiative, which we have aptly named ‘Walk with Style’,” explains Dobberstein.

Managing the project is no easy feat, especially when making the initial contact and communicating the purpose and how the project will be executed.

“Once the school principals understood that it would be a creative activity children from the whole school could participate in to express themselves — and at the same time learn and understand the upcycling process — they were fully on board.”

Dobberstein is glad that the shoes are not ending up in the landfills but are being repurposed for a good cause.

“This is our Earth, it’s for this next generation to take ownership of it and what better way than with a fun and creative upcycling project. Not to mention, graffiti-painted shoes are super trendy right now. While some large companies are selling them, we are proudly creating our own,” she beams.

A win-win for all, definitely. Another definitive highlight, she shares, is the happy smiling faces of the children and, of course, the beautifully painted shoes they have created.


Dobberstein is glad that the shoes are not ending up in the landfills but are being repurposed for a good cause

“It definitely helps that we have a fantastic and very dedicated partner. The CSR [corporate social responsibility] team at MR DIY does everything from coordinating and delivering to setting up the projects at the venues. We at SID source the locations and coordinate all the parties involved at the venue. Both teams attend the events and we have forged a great working relationship.”

The project was first rolled out in November 2022 at SID-sponsored homes and centres: Myanmar Refugee Community Learning Centre — a refugee school in Kuchai Lama, Kuala Lumpur — and Rumah Aman in Sungai Buloh, Selangor. It began expanding — covering schools outside the Klang Valley — when MR DIY became involved, leveraging the latter’s presence across the country. The first stop was Sekolah Kebangsaan Tunku Bendahara in Kodiang, Kedah, with the participation of 500 pupils.

“In early January, we completed a relatively large Walk with Style project at the PKK flats in Bukit Jalil, where 250 children participated. In February, we went to the fishing village of Kemasik in Terengganu where one of our senior SID members set up projects with two schools involving 700 children over two days,” recalls Dobberstein.

The project will continue as long as the shoe supply from MR DIY keeps coming. SID hopes to organise a few more large-scale projects with schools around Malaysia. Its next stop will be a primary school at Cameron Highlands, Pahang, and a village in Gombak, Selangor, in early May.


The team with Youth and Sports Minister Hannah Yeoh (middle) at the recent event in Sekolah Kebangsaan Segambut Makmur

“The big-picture vision is to take the sustainability awareness learning to schoolchildren and this upcycling initiative has been a good start for us all,” she states.

Over the course of two years, MR DIY has supported SID in its many meaningful initiatives and their relationship has gone from strength to strength. More importantly, they are able to contribute to the greater good while bringing joy to children and the underprivileged as well as reducing landfill waste.

Dobberstein, who found a calling in becoming a Soroptimist since 2017, believes in transforming the lives of women and children, especially those from the B40 and financially disadvantaged groups.

“At Soroptimist International, our mission is about the three ‘Es’ — education, empowerment and enabling opportunities. While SID’s primary focus has been to provide education assistance and support for children and youth from those groups, SID also ventures into a variety of other projects and activities, all the while targeting the women and children in underprivileged communities.”

In conjunction with its 30th anniversary celebrations this year, SID will be planning an actual Walk with Style in Lake Gardens, KL, with the children who have participated in its programme. Watch this space!


This article first appeared on Mar 27, 2023 in The Edge Malaysia.


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