Today, I walked outside in the mud and rain to get dog food. I drove into Oregon City and walked through the parking lot into the thrift store for an hour or two. I went to the orthodontist and made more stops all through Gladstone, after which I drove home and walked back through the mud, rain, and cold into the house.
Nothing extraordinary about that day at all. In fact, it was pretty typical. But I realized that if one little factor had been missing from today, the entire 14 hours I've been awake so far would have been much different. That one factor is my shoes.
It's incredible how much we take shoes for granted. Up until a few weeks ago, I had never really thought about the significance of my shoes. And when I heard about an organization whose purpose was to give shoes to shoe-less kids, I personally thought it was a little odd and unnecessary. I mean, why shoes? When there are other problems in the world like hunger, slavery, and AIDS, how does giving a kid a pair of shoes really make that much of a difference?
It turns out that a pair of shoes can make a lot of difference in a child's life. In many countries like Zambia, Kenya, and Guatemala, most children are without shoes. Living barefoot leads to several problems.
1. Cuts on feet can become easily infected and infect the bloodstream.
2. Ticks can feast on the flesh and then multiply into small, maggot-looking parasites. This causes children to be unable to walk properly.
3. These causes as well as others can leads to permanent disability, brain damage, and even death because these ticks, or "jiggers," affect the nervous system.
Believe it or not, simply wearing shoes can mean life or death for a child. In many cases, serious health issues result. But this isn't the only effect of being shoe-less.
In many countries, shoes are required in order for children to attend school. Not having a pair can mean that a child cannot receive an education because the family simply cannot afford to buy shoes. No shoes = no school = no job = no hope.
Suddenly, we realize that the consequences of not having a pair of shoes are much greater than we had originally thought. When a simple pair of shoes can mean getting a healthy life and a good education, it leaves one question to be asked: how do we get shoes to these kids?
It turns out that I'm not the first one to have that thought. In 2006, American Blake Mycoskie made friends with some barefoot children in Argentina. After seeing their living conditions, he resolved to start a movement that helped provide shoes to children in need. The organization he started now provides shoes all over the world. Originally called "Shoes for a Better Tomorrow," the official name was shortened down to "TOMS." And now, the TOMS mission is spreading across the globe.
The motto of the TOMS organization is "One for One," and that is exactly what they do. For every pair of shoes that is bought from toms.com, TOMS gives away one pair to a child without shoes. One for One. The shoes are manufactured in three locations all over the world without child labor and with equitable pay. TOMS then consults NGO's in various locations to determine the best places to give shoes that will make the most impact and not hurt any local businesses. The giving of shoes then becomes a regular event in that location as TOMS works to replace the shoes as often as possible while the kids' feet continue to grow. As of September 2010, TOMS had given away one million pairs of shoes.
TOMS has partnered with many organizations, one of which is World Vision. World Vision tells the story of Alex Chipilipili [right], a ten-year-old from Zambia who hoped to receive a pair of TOMS shoes when World Vision came to distribute them in his village. “Jiggers have troubled me for a long time now; they are eating up my feet,” Alex told World Vision. “This is making me feel pain, especially when I walk. Usually at night, I don’t sleep well because of itching and pain that I feel on my feet.” The ticks had multiplied and laid eggs in his cracked heels, but he’s not alone. Many children in his community had jiggers or worms due to walking barefoot in infested areas. “I have never put on shoes since I was born."
Alex waited in line, his heart pounding out of fear that the shoes would run out before all 170 children has received a pair. But he need not have feared. Now, Alex and every other child in the village has a pair of shoes that they need. Alex said afterward, "I love playing football, but because of the way my feet are looking like, I stopped. Now, I be free. I’ll be able to attend classes and play football again. I thank the donor who provided these shoes, and may God bless him."
Changing a child's life really can be as simple as buying a pair of shoes. A few weeks ago, I bought my first pair of TOMS, the Gilded Herringbone [right]. I was ecstatic when they arrived and have hardly ever worn another pair of shoes since. They are very comfortable, go great with all outfits, and are easily washed and cleaned. TOMS sells many different styles and patterns to fit anyone's taste in men's, women's, and tiny toms, from solid black to sparkly pink. But besides how much I like them, it's amazing to think that a child who would otherwise face the risks of foot infection and lack of education has a new start a life due to my purchase. Today, I bought my second pair of TOMS, the classic chocolate, and I am eagerly awaiting their arrival. Two lives have now been changed. And with your help, this can continue.
But there are ways to help even after you buy a pair of TOMS! Coming up on April 5th is One Day Without Shoes, a nation-wide, even a global movement. For the entire day, I and thousands of others will go about our normal day without wearing shoes. The goal? To first impact ourselves with the reality of what life without shoes is like, and then to strike up conversations with people around and act as catalysts of change. This is something anyone can do that can ultimately change a child's life. Learn more at OneDayWithoutShoes.com.
There is a problem: kids without shoes are at a serious disadvantage physically and educationally. And these significant problems can be addressed by a simple pair of shoes. When you put on a pair of shoes every day (except April 5th!), remember the children who have no shoes. Use your resources to make a difference and consider buying a pair of TOMS and supporting this effort. Use your voice to promote the TOMS mission. Use your feet to give hope through TOMS shoes. Use yourself to give shoes for a better TOMorrow.