Instead, she will spend eight weeks in the African kingdom of Swaziland, which has the highest rate of HIV/AIDS in the world. An Atlanta Girls’ School graduate, Johnson, 18, leaves June 12 to distribute TOMS Shoes to more than 500,000 orphans and disease-stricken children in the local church community.
She is going with Heart for Africa, an Alpharetta-based nonprofit, which recently partnered with TOMS and picked Johnson and 10 other applicants for this summer’s internship program.
“A lot of these kids don’t have shoes. That’s the whole point of going down there,” Johnson said.
She will be the team leader of a missionary group to distribute shoes and food to Swaziland residents.
“We’re going to teach them to size TOMS because they have no idea what to do,” she said.
Johnson calls herself the “contact person” who communicates with the preachers and teachers in the community and helps break cultural barriers.
When there is no missionary work, Johnson and the other interns will work on Heart for Africa’s farm, where food is grown to feed the community.
Last summer, Johnson traveled to Swaziland for three weeks and worked with a medical team and the local church.
“I had never seen so many kids that were so hungry. They hadn’t eaten in a week,” she said. “But they were so happy to see me, they’re so excited about just being people.”
And Johnson said her first trip put her own problems into perspective.
“I get grumpy about the smallest things. I let them ruin my day,” she said. “Things like not getting an A on a test or getting in an argument with my parents, those are just [little] prob-lems.”
Ironically, Johnson used to be skeptical about TOMS.
“I didn’t believe in it because I was not sure if they were going to the kids,” she said. “Then I went to Swaziland and I saw a kid there with TOMS and I said, ‘Wow, they must be doing something right.’”
TOMS shoes’ slogan is “One for One,” providing a new pair of shoes to a child in need for every pair of shoes purchased.
“I feel so blessed to be a part of their whole program,” Johnson said. “I think this is a great step before college.”
In the fall, Johnson will attend Rhodes College in Memphis, where she will study biology or environ-mental science.
“I am really interested in the study of any prevention of diseases, especially HIV and AIDS,” Johnson said.
She envisions herself working in an international clinic one day.
“Jessica has gone beyond the expectation to make a difference in the lives of children abroad,” said Atlanta Girls’ School Academic Dean Corinne Dedini. “We look forward to watching Jessica follow her heart to Africa and beyond.”