Tammy Darmel Moore has a background in corporate America, but a trip to Ethiopia in 2019 shaped her into a social entrepreneur, visionary, and nonprofit founder. Inspired by the people she met during the Year of Return, Moore was incentivized to do something. When COVID-19 stopped her from returning to Ethiopia, she decided that the pandemic wouldn’t stop her. She brainstormed, she planned, and she birthed Footprints in Africa. Since the founding of the organization in 2020, Footprints in Africa has done amazing work. Keep reading to find out more about Tammy Darmel Moore, Footprints in Africa, and how you can help them make a difference.
Jouviane: Let’s jump right into this wonderful organization you’ve created called Footprints in Africa. To start, how did your journey to Footprints in Africa begin and what inspired you to start such a business?
Tammy: I traveled to Ethiopia back in 2019 during the Year of Return. It was a personal trip for me. I’ve done a great deal of traveling in the last four or five years. I made a commitment to myself that once I got my last child out of college that I would travel. When my son graduated, I did exactly that. I hit around 25 countries on four continents within three years.
At that point, everyone kept asking me why I hadn’t traveled to Africa yet. I wanted to do it a certain way. I wanted to go during the Year of Return in 2019, and I wanted to do Ethiopia first. They would ask, “why Ethiopia first?” Well, Ethiopia is the beginning of civilization. It’s the beginning of all mankind. When some think of Ethiopia, they think of malnourished children, hunger, and poverty. That’s not the case. I told them, respectfully, I want to go to Ethiopia first. So I told myself that until I got the opportunity to travel to Africa the way that I wanted, I would go elsewhere instead of going to all the well-known countries in Africa like Ghana and Nigeria.
I got an email from my travel friends asking if I would be interested in going on a trip. They were going to Ethiopia, and all I could think was look at God. Not only were we going to Ethiopia, but it was in 2019, which I mentioned was the Year of Return.
I went on that trip and had a beautiful experience. That was the first place where I literally took my shoes off when I left the plane. Now, I’ve been to many places and have never done that, but I wanted to make sure the soles of my feet physically touched the motherland.
During that trip, I met a little girl in the Konso tribe, which is a rural area in Ethiopia. They have an “off the grid” form of living where they don’t pay attention to the days of the week. There’s no concept of time outside of using the sunrise and sunset. For the most part, their community lives naked. Children run around barefoot, but everyone is happy. The little girl that I met was walking me back to my van with the group and she asked for the Nike Air Maxes that I had on my feet. We were in pretty rocky terrain so I communicated to her that I wouldn’t be able to give them to her. While she had shoes on, her feet were sticking out so, of course, I felt bad. I felt convicted. Imagine having a child asking you for something and you’re saying “no” when you know you have plenty at home.
I took this trip in the fall of 2019 and told myself that I would return in February for my birthday. When I got back to the states, I contacted a historian I met while I was in Ethiopia. I told him that upon my return to Ethiopia for my birthday, I wanted to return to the Konso tribe to give the little girl the black Nike Air Maxes that she asked for during my first trip. I stayed in contact with some of the people I met, and what I didn’t know at the time was that they had a big festival planned for me for my birthday.
Since I’m also a photographer, I got the opportunity to curate a Black history exhibition. I got a call from a local museum asking if I’d help them put together a Black history program - they’d never done one at the downtown museum here in Greenville, South Carolina. I told them that I’d be honored, and asked when it was. Can you believe they told me opening night was February 15? Not only was that my birthday but it was also the day I was supposed to be in Ethiopia. Not knowing about the birthday festival that was planned for me, I reached out to my friends and told them that I’d be pushing the trip back to the end of February.
I did that Black History Museum exhibition at the museum in Greenville on February 15, and it was a beautiful event. During this time, I was trying to see if I could get my flight changed, but the cost of the tickets didn’t even double - they were four times the amount. The tickets got as high as $10.5K. I couldn’t figure out why the tickets were so high at the time, only to realize that it was when news of the coronavirus was spreading.
I wasn’t able to make the trip at that time, and thought I would give it a couple of weeks or months for everything to calm down. I told myself that during the interim, instead of having one pair of shoes to give to one child, why don’t I reach out to family and friends to see if they’d be willing to donate gently used shoes.
Within two weeks, I had over 100 pairs of shoes in my living room. I didn’t post this to social media. I didn’t send out an email blast. This all came through conversations with the people that I knew directly. I even had to begin turning away shoes at one point because I couldn’t store all of them.
On March 18, South Carolina went on lockdown due to the pandemic and while we had all that idle time on our hands, I birthed Footprints in Africa.
Jouviane: While I can kind of assume based on how you were inspired to start this company, how did you come up with the name Footprints in Africa?
Tammy: I was definitely inspired by looking at all the children running around barefoot. It was definitely solidified by the image of that little girl asking me for my shoes as her feet stuck out of her own. There were more footprints than shoeprints, and that’s how the idea for the name came to be.
Jouviane: If you could use one word or phrase to describe Footprints in Africa, what would you use?
Tammy: Africa matters.
Jouviane: Going through your website, I discovered that Footprints in Africa has a lot of different initiatives. Could you walk me through some of them?
Tammy: Footprints in Africa is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, and our mission and vision as a whole is a commitment to aiding the people in Africa who live in poverty-stricken communities with the necessities needed to maintain a standard quality of life. We believe that a single action can make all the difference in the lives of others and collective actions can greatly impact the world. Through advocacy and community outreach programs, projects, campaigns, and initiatives, we are committed to fostering support that brings about real change for the greater good of those who live in Africa. We’re talking about change that you can actually measure.
One of our programs is to Sponsor a Child, and I partnered with Lale Labuko. I didn’t want to recreate the wheel. I wanted to touch base with folks who are living in the area and know what is taking place more so than I did. I reached out to Lale with the initial thought that I needed someone to give the shoes to.
As I was doing my research, I came across Lale Labuko. He has a place called OMO Child, and I’ve since partnered with him where his children are on my website. He goes out and rescues Mingi children. These children are considered “evil” if they’re born out of wedlock or if their parents didn’t receive permission to get pregnant. Lale Labuko goes into the bush and talks to the elders when the children are born before they succumb to the customs of the community which includes placing these children in huts for two weeks and starving them or throwing them into a nearby swamp.
At this time, he has over 50 children in the OMO Child Home. In looking for someone to donate the shoes to, I knew I had to speak with him directly. We’re now working together and one can see the children in his home on the Footprints in Africa website. For $37 a month, you can sponsor a Mingi child, and the funds go to them directly. We started that program in March, so it’s still new.
In addition to that, I've made it a goal to hire people from the continent. I hired a young lady from Nigeria to be my senior news editor who did my newsletter. She’s in the States attending school in New York City, and she actually found me on Official Black Wall Street! I was on OBWS for probably two weeks, and I got a call out of the blue. She tells me who she is, that she found me on Official Black Wall Street, and that she’s seeking employment. At the time, she wasn’t attending school because of the coronavirus, and she didn’t want to return home so she was looking for work. Long story short, I brought her on as our senior news editor. She’s majoring in journalism so at the time, she was handling our newsletter. I also hired a website developer from Zambia and a news contributor and content writer from Ethiopia. That’s another way we lend a nod to our mission and vision.
Anytime that I get the opportunity to hire someone that is in or from Africa, if I can help, I’ll do so.
Jouviane: I noticed that all the products in your shop are authentically made in Africa. How do you source these items?
Tammy: One program we have is that we sponsor local businesses. Everything in our online store comes directly from Africa with the exception of our brand items. You will not find African-inspired items. You will not find items made anywhere within the United States. What was really prevalent during this past Black History Month is that you saw a lot of people wearing dashikis, headwraps, and other African attire that were made in India, China, Thailand. It looks like the real deal, but when you’ve had a real African garment, and you’ve actually put your hand on it, you’ll know going forward that you’ve owned a piece of real African attire.
I spend a lot of late nights working because I’m on virtual calls with businesswomen in Africa because we’re speaking during their working hours. We’re talking about the story behind the garments, negotiating how many pieces they can make for the site, how this collaboration would benefit them and their family, and so on. For the most part, you can generally gauge the answer to that last question. They’ll be able to eat, support their family, and have somewhere to live. But I ask that question because I want to be able to relay it to those who actually buy the items.
Jouviane: Do you have a favorite memory or something that has stuck with you throughout this entire process?
Tammy: This is new territory for me. My background is business development, so I’m used to working in corporate America and helping big organizations take what they have and make things happen. With COVID-19, I was directed into this nonprofit. I would’ve never imagined Footprints in Africa being birthed. It just evolved. In addition to that, one of the fondest memories I have is while I was in Ethiopia. What I realized was that while I was in awe of the people there, they were also in awe of me.
Of course, I don’t speak their language and most of them don’t speak English. The younger children speak broken English to the point where you can understand, but the elders don’t. What I realized is that although we couldn’t speak the same language, there was a kindred spirit. We understood each other through body language.
When I first got off the plane in Ethiopia, I met a woman who first pointed at me and then pointed at herself. I was searching my bag to see if there was something I could give to her. I had a small tube of hand lotion, and I handed it to her. And she started saying the word “lotion!” My eyes just filled with tears. Just something so simple that we take for granted could make someone happy.
In the same location, a little girl, she had on a piece of purple cloth that was tied around her body as a dress. She looked to be about 6 or 7, and she was so dignified and poised. She looked at me and I could tell she wanted to say something but didn’t know how. She pointed at me and then she pointed at her mouth. And at that moment, I was thinking, well I know she doesn’t want a kiss. Then I realized she wanted lipstick. You know every little girl her age wants lipstick. I reached in my purse and gave her my MAC lipstick. She took it and knew exactly how to apply it. I didn’t have to give any instructions or anything.
Those two things really stand out to me. Just the simple pleasures of how small things can go such a long way for those who have less than we do.
Jouviane: With all that said and all that Footprints in Africa does, how can our Official Black Wall Street readers help?
Tammy: They can become a member, also known as a Good Will Advocate. There are six ways in which people can get involved. Of course those ways aren’t the end-all, be-all. If they have something in mind, something they feel would help the mission and vision of Footprints in Africa, then I encourage them to call me. They can always send me an email, and we can carve out some time to talk about it.
As for the six ways, they can become a Good Will Advocate member. That is where members pledge to make an annual donation of $250 or more. They also pledge to share our content on social media and spread the word of Footprints in Africa with their family and friends. People can also choose to partner with us. Volunteer their time. They can spread the word about the organization and our mission. They can start a work campaign. They can patronize the online store because when they shop with us, they’re helping us support small businesses in Africa. And lastly, they can choose to sponsor a Mingi child for $37 a month. These are the ways that people can participate and get involved with Footprints in Africa.
Jouviane: To end, if there was one thing you could tell readers about Footprints in Africa, what would it be?
Tammy: Footprints in Africa is committed to going the distance. We’re committed to being about our people. We’re committed to traveling, putting them in the forefront, sponsoring their businesses. Prayerfully, you’ll support us along the way. You don’t have to go the distance, we just ask that you support us as we do. We’re dedicated to doing the legwork. And that’s our tagline: Going the distance.
One of their core initiatives is to promote the preservation of Africa's artisanal skills and traditional craftsmanship, which is why their online store is more than just an eCommerce space for retail exchange. It's an impactful initiative and another way in which they uphold their mission and vision.
They carry authentic African items (98% of their inventory) from the Motherland, except for their brand items, which is their way of supporting small businesses in Africa. When you shop their online store, you can shop with confidence, knowing that you're purchasing an authentic African item made by talented independent business owners, skilled craftsmen, and African Artisans. In doing so, your purchase(s) helps sustain small businesses, preserves families, supports education, and invests courage into vulnerable communities throughout Africa.