One of my favorite experiences growing up was going to my uncle Jack’s cottage on a lake a few hours west of Detroit, MI, where I grew up. I remember lots of good food, hanging out with my cousins, fishing, swimming, boating, water skiing, and catching bullfrogs. I remember playing catch with a baseball, tossing a football, or kicking a soccer ball on the sparse grass and sandy back lot. I also remember going the whole weekend never wearing shoes. I stubbed my toe now and then, or suffered a cut on a sharp rock, but who cared? (besides my mom). It was spray on the disinfectant, slap on a band-aid, and play on! After all, why did I need shoes?
Once I woke up, ate breakfast, and cleaned up my sleeping area, it was off to a day of running, chasing, avoiding getting caught in a game of tag, exploring the lake, and having a blast – all barefooted in the dirt and out on the water. I actually only put my shoes on when it was time to say goodbye and head back to Detroit with my siblings and parents. Imagine, a whole weekend without wearing shoes. It was liberating for a kid. I did it because of choice, not necessity.
Another favorite experience of mine has been traveling to developing countries. Being exposed to different cultures in other parts of the world has been enriching in many ways. Yet I have seen things that have been troubling: poor water and food distribution systems, widespread poverty, and lots of children and adults without shoes. My first trip to Haiti in the 1980’s was stunning in the number of people I saw without shoes. I remember the students from our Chi Alpha chapter and I leaving behind an extra pair of shoes we had brought, as well as other supplies we could readily get in America. After all, even when I left a pair of my used Nike shoes to a villager I met (and the flip-flops I used at the beach), I still had a second pair of shoes on my feet.
In 2006, American traveler Blake Mycoskie befriended children in a village in Argentina and found they had no shoes to protect their feet. Wanting to help, he created TOMS Shoes, a company that would match every pair of shoes purchased with a pair of new shoes given to a child in need. One for One. Blake returned to Argentina with a group of family, friends and staff later that year with 10,000 pairs of shoes made possible by TOMS customers.
Why Shoes? Many children in developing countries grow up barefoot. Whether at play, doing chores or going to school, these children are at risk. Blake writes on his web site that:
•A leading cause of disease in developing countries is soil-transmitted diseases, which can penetrate the skin through bare feet. Wearing shoes can help prevent these diseases, and the long-term physical and cognitive harm they cause.
•Wearing shoes also prevents feet from getting cuts and sores. Not only are these injuries painful, they also are dangerous when wounds become infected.
•Many times children can’t attend school barefoot because shoes are a required part of their uniform. If they don’t have shoes, they don’t go to school. If they don’t receive an education, they don’t have the opportunity to realize their potential.
Would you join the One for One movement? It is about people like you and me making choices that improve the lives of children. Get aware and involved at www.TOMSshoes.com. Consider mobilizing the students on your campus on April 5, 2011 for One Day Without Shoes – the day we can take off our shoes to raise awareness of the impact a pair of shoes can have on a child’s life. Serve globally. Would you and your pals walk campus barefoot one day to help a child?
Love is a verb,