Thursday, April 12, 2012

One Day Without Shoes

"There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread." -- Mahatma Gandhi

I got my first pair of  Tom's shoes from Jack for my birthday two years ago.  They were red, flat and comfy.  They also allowed another person to have a pair of shoes...that's the mission of Tom's: to give away shoes to people who don't have any.

It's hard to imagine someone not having a single pair of shoes.  Not one.

I don't know anybody like this.  In fact, I'm pretty sure I don't anybody who has only one pair of shoes.  Infants in my world, who can't even stand up -- let alone walk, have several pairs.  Shoes are a part of our life.  Like breathing, we barely think about it.  As women, they are something we talk about, window shop for, discuss at parties, and buy.  We have flip flops, clogs, boots, rainboots, sandals, ballet flats, espadrilles, wedges, Uggs, stilettos, running shoes, cross-trainers, tennis shoes, Keds, Candies, and let's not forget the dreadful Crocs.  We have so many shoe options that we decide which pair to wear based on the event and quite often change our shoes throughout the day.

Shoes makes us happy.

When Jack gave me that first pair of Tom's, I was appreciative and pleased to see someone I loved do a bit for charity but I actually thought, "What's the point?  Of all the things someone may need, why shoes?  Why not clean water? Or farming techniques? Or clean clothes? Or medicine?"
I had no idea the incredible need.

Here are a few facts from the Tom's website:

  •  30,000 people LIVE in just one landfill in the Philippines,where children walk over broken glass, syringes and debris everyday.  
  • 1,890,000 Kenyan children are infected with jiggers -- burrowing fleas that cause painful leasions.
  • 4,000,000 people have podoconiosis -- a debilitating and disfiguring disease caused by living barefoot in volcanic soil.
  • 740,000,000 people are affected by hookworm -- a soil-transmitted parasite that can cause intestinal pain, weakness and cognitive impairment.
  • Shoes, in some areas of the world, are required for children to attend school.  
No shoes = No education!

So I decided to attempt the Tom's challenge and go "one day without shoes".  It was a cold and rainy day at my house but I didn't have to go many places and so I thought it was possible.  One day.  How hard can that be?  It might be kind of fun...

Well, almost as soon as I began I wanted some socks at the very least.  I decided that was definitely cheating and far too wimpy so I nixed the sock option.  I hung around my house biggie.  Then I had to walk the dog in the rain and barefoot.  It felt odd, a bit uncomfortable but it wasn't too bad.    I felt a little free-spirited and frisky...I was doing it.  I came home and wanted to cover up those cold tootsies in a blanket but that was too close to cheating too.

Most of the day, I hung around barefoot and felt annoyed with having cold feet.  I didn't even stub a toe.

Then  I decided to head to the grocery store.  It wasn't entirely fair since I picked a grocery store known for fair trade coffee and organic produce.  I knew that if I was questioned, chances were good that they might side with me.  Since it was still raining and I might track something into the store, I felt very conspicuous.  I thought everyone would notice...hardly anyone did.  But suddenly I felt vulnerable and like a cultural weirdo.  I felt out of place, cold and ridiculous.  (I could only imagine what my 16 year old daughter would say if she saw me!)

I shopped for about 20 minutes and no one mentioned a thing.  (To be honest, I did go out of my way to avoid employees as I was worried they might kick me out of the store.)  As I was checking out, the man behind me mentioned that I had no shoes to the clerk and asked me if I was cold.  I felt embarrassed but told them the reason.  The clerk gave his support and approval.  The guy behind me gave me body language and eye rolling that let me know he thought I was whacked.  As I was walking out of the store, a mom with a ten year old saw my bare feet and told her son: "Look!  That lady has no shoes on and she's out in this weather.  Some people are crazy."  I felt a little crazy and a whole lot out of my comfort zone but then I thought about the millions of people who have no choice.

When I got home I was sorely tempted by the thought of socks again but I stayed strong.  All night long and even on the second walk of my faithful furry friend, Buddy, I stayed barefoot.  By the end I was desperate.  I wanted comfort, warmth and protection.  I didn't get it until my feet snuggled into the bottom of my bed.

Today I couldn't wait to put on my socks and all day my feet and I savored the comfort of my shoes.  But I also couldn't stop thinking about the millions of people who have no shoes to put on today.  As I tied my children's shoes and looked up into their eyes, I could see other people's children and felt not just guilty but heartbroken for those kids who can't go to school simply because they don't have a pair of shoes.

It's an indignity to have no shoes, but it is inhumane to deny someone an education because of it. You are crushing a future, squashing hope and frankly forcing someone into despair. The child just doesn't lose, we all lose.  When someone is denied their chance to learn and grow, it's impossible to imagine the ripples of loss that will continue.

It seems that my "one day without shoes" is going to last a lot longer than twenty four hours.  Today I am grateful for the sole and the soul of my shoes that afforded me comfort, protection and an education -- gifts that I took for granted for my entire life until yesterday. Better yet, I am humbled by the heart and soul of one man's vision to give shoes to the world...comfort, protection, education and hope all wrapped in a shoebox -- one pair at a time. 

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