Well, the day is coming to a close here in Kitale, Kenya and I'm still barefoot. I knew leaving my shoes behind for the day would be different, but I hardly expected it to give me an entirely new perspective on my life. Shoes have always been more of a fashion statement than a necessity. I'm not saying I know anything about fashion, I'm just saying that I've always chosen my shoes because I like them, not because I desperately need them. Here in Kitale, as it is in many other places around the world, people desperately need shoes. Not just for comfort, but for protection—protection that could ultimately save their lives.
After traveling with TOMS to deliver shoes to needy people in remote villages of northern Argentina during spring break of 2009, I thought I really understood why getting shoes on the feet of helpless people around the world was so important. I’ve even participated in One Day Without Shoes for the past two years, but now, looking back on it, I think gave me a false sense that I understood how these people felt. Today I realized I did not. Choosing (which is actually a very important aspect—I chose not to wear shoes, but these people never have a choice) to go barefoot in America is a completely different story than choosing to go barefoot in Africa. I remember going to my international business class barefoot last year. Looking back, my day without shoes involved hopping in my car, driving to the business school parking garage and walking 5 minutes on concrete, tile and carpet to my classroom. Such a joke. Those who go barefoot here in Kitale will certainly not find their way into a car nor into a home or building with anything other than a dirt floor—they don’t have enough money for any of that and they probably never will. They don’t even have enough money to feed themselves, yet alone purchase shoes.
Ouchhh. I took my first step on our driveway out of the compound and realized this experience was going to be painful. I wasn’t in America where the ground I walk on is almost always made of concrete. This terrain was much less forgiving—rocks, thorns, twigs, bugs and even cow patties covered every step I was about to take. No more tile or carpet floors, just dirt, mud and maybe dilapidated concrete. I wasn’t ready to come to terms with the fact that I was going to be vulnerable to so many things I dread. Last year, the worst thing about walking barefoot in Texas was that I had to increase my walking pace because the sun had made the cement hotter than I preferred—hardly something to complain about after today. By the time I got to Oasis I had a whole new respect for the children I have the privilege of loving on each day. They walk that path barefoot everyday without any complaints, but I flinched with every step I took on the pebble-filled road as I tried to avoid the biggest and most painful looking rocks. Many of the children who come to Oasis come from villages and communities more than 5 kilometers away. These children really are amazing.
After spending the morning at Oasis, some of us joined Sister Freda for a mobile medical clinic in Kipsongo—the largest and poorest slum in Kitale. When we arrived at the clinic site I had to decide whether or not I was going to really commit to going barefoot today. The rocks, thorns, bacteria and bugs that had threatened me thus far seemed to pale in comparison to what I was about to face—diseases, infections and illnesses thriving among this desperate community. I wasn’t actually sure I wanted to go through with this whole thing. Suddenly thoughts of what could possibly happen started filling my mind. I even thought about the fact that if I had single cut on my foot from the rocky terrain my feet were a welcoming point for anything these people had—including AIDS. I decided that if people in this community and others all around the world had to live each day with these threats, then I could do it for just one day. I prayed for God’s protection and went in. Of course I quickly found myself plopped on the floor removing jiggers. Probably the last thing I wanted to do was have my feet within 8 inches of someone’s jigger-consumed feet. Not only was I likely to have a live jigger find its way to my feet, I was also dealing with infected, bloody wounds—another thing I didn’t want finding its way to my feet and into my bloodstream.
This experience gave me an entirely new outlook on what life is like for an estimated 300 million people who go without shoes. The fear I felt today is a harsh reality that these people face everyday. They live in conditions that are breeding grounds for bacteria, fungus and jiggers, which means their bodies are exceedingly vulnerable to infection and disease. To them, wearing shoes isn’t about fashion. It isn’t even about comfort or convenience. It’s about necessity—a necessity to protect themselves.
first steps onto our rocky driveway- probably the most painful terrain I encountered
path to Oasis
a woman carrying her wood on the path to Oasis- barefoot, not by choice
the boys at Oasis playing soccer barefoot
removing jiggers from a 112 year old woman
this is what can happen when you are forced to live without shoes
112 years old- so beautiful!
removing jiggers from a barefoot with barefeet
back on the compound after one day without shoes
Help us raise awareness for the millions of people around the world that go without shoes each day: http://www.causes.com/causes/600231-shoes-for-souls?recruiter_id=109835128