I went barefoot today as a part of Toms One Day Without Shoes. It’s a simple idea to raise awareness for the millions of people who go without shoes every day and face dire consequences. Not having shoes can lead to cuts and sores that can get infected and lead to serious medical problems. Some kids can’t even go to school unless they have shoes. And the fact that really grabbed me: Approximately one million people in Ethiopia suffer from a debilitating and disfiguring condition (podoconiosis) that’s completely preventable with shoes.
Something as simple as shoes (like water) can make a big difference. I never would have thought of shoes as being the difference between life and death before. But that’s the reality.
If you’re not familiar with them, Toms is a company that wants to put shoes on shoeless children. For every pair of shoes you buy, they’ll donate a pair to a child in need. It’s a cool concept (though I haven’t bought any of Toms shoes). Another way to help put kids in shoes is with the organization Soles4Souls (I mentioned them a while back).
I don’t know if I actually raised much awareness going barefoot (other than Twitter and this blog), but I do think it was valuable. Last fall I went homeless for a night and I remember someone made a comment (I don’t know if it was directed at me or not) that they didn’t understand what good it did to pretend to be homeless. I get that perspective. Pretending I don’t have shoes and going barefoot for a day doesn’t really help a child with no shoes. And going homeless for a night doesn’t directly help a real homeless person. But it’s not so much about directly helping them as it is about changing me.
I went barefoot for most of today (I wore sandals to a restaurant tonight–the whole ‘no shirt, no shoes, no service’ thing). I walked into my garage barefoot and felt the sharp stones, reminding me I need to sweep out the garage. I drove barefoot, giving me a new appreciation for the feel of the clutch pedal. I walked through a parking garage and got on an elevator barefoot. I walked through a clinic and into a doctor’s office barefoot. I went into a bathroom and changed Milo’s diaper barefoot (yeah, I stayed away from the urinals). I walked back and forth across the University of Minnesota’s campus barefoot, crossing streets, walking on broken concrete, stepping over cracks and around pebbles, and even walking on a few glorious patches of grass.
I felt incredibly self-conscious doing it. No one ever said a word to me about it, but I felt like people noticed and looked at me strangely (though I also had a baby strapped to my body, which draws curious looks of its own). I noticed other people’s feet more than I normally do and didn’t see a single other person going barefoot. Everybody had shoes.
When I got home my feet were dirty and sore. Now if I did this every day I’d probably be tougher and the little pebbles wouldn’t bother me so much. But I have a new appreciation for what so many people go through. Something as basic as my shoes can make an incredible difference. And I only spent a few hours outside of my carpeted home without shoes on.
All that barefoot wandering probably won’t raise much awareness in others, but for me it’s more about changing my own mindset and creating solidarity with those who suffer around the world. If I can change myself, I can change the world.