Where Shoes Aren’t Mere Fashion

There is nothing like getting ready for a Mainland visit to make me appreciate our small businesses.

This trip was to be a long one. But short trip or long, it never seems to matter how early I start packing. Inevitably I’m scrambling about right up until my husband has made his final call for boarding – the car.

This time it was shoes. I couldn’t find my travel shoes. I swore they were right there by the clothes I’d neatly laid out.

But no.

After an unproductive cursory look in my luggage, everyone, including my husband, the dog sitter, and even the dogs scoured the house searching under beds and in closets. No shoes. At least not the perfect shoes.

Then as I gave one final look in my closet full of shoes, I realized two things: one, what a brat I was to stress over one missing shoe pair; and two, how fantastic this country is.

I threw on some slippers. On the way to the airport I checked emails on my phone. One was another reminder of shoes and the luxury they are. An email from Heart for Africa, which helps African orphans and vulnerable children, was about a shoe giveaway during their summer mission trips.

Reflecting on a trip with HEXA to Swaziland in 2005, I recall being appalled by, among other consequences of poverty, the fact that few of the children wore shoes.

Barefoot children are par for the course here in Hawaii, right?

But this was different. The terrain was thorny, rugged and rocky, and it was winter there.

And, unlike in Hawaii, these children didn’t own shoes.

A bit of background on the shoe giveaway:

Back in 2006 a young man, Blake Mycoskie, traveling in Argentina, saw many shoeless children. He wanted to help, and in the great American spirit of entrepreneurism he had an idea and acted.

He realized that children with no foot protection in developing countries where lack of sanitation exists are at great risk. One leading cause of illness is soil transmitted diseases, including worms and parasites that enter the skin through the soles of feet.

Hookworms can cause anemia, stunted physical and mental development, and potentially congestive heart failure.

Podoconiosis causes feet and legs to swell from extended exposure to certain soils.

Very common are jiggers, small mite-like organisms that bite around the feet and ankles. They cause severe itching and hives.

Seventy percent of children in Zambia are infected with Jiggers and intestinal worms.

Also, open cuts and sores create an entry-way for bacteria that can result in tetanus, a potentially deadly infectious disease.

In addition to protecting children from infection and disease, having shoes to wear allows them to go to school, and to be elevated in status, thereby increasing the chance for better succeeding, and for their self-esteem.

Rather than create a non-profit charity, getting others to give to him so he could buy these children shoes (which would’ve been easier), Mycoskie decided to create TOMS Shoes. Blake wanted to call it Shoes for a Better Tomorrow, but TOMS Shoes was a more succinct brand name.

TOMS’ whole idea is that for every shoe bought, another is given away, the One for One program. Since 2010, one million shoes have been given to children in 23 countries in Africa and Central and South America, always working through partner charities such as Heart for Africa.

These custom-made shoes are created in factories in Argentina, Ethiopia and China (audited by third parties so no child labor is used and fair wages are paid).

Jobs are another gift to those impoverished regions.

TOMS is but one of thousands of businesses large and small that provide good jobs to Americans, donate generously to charities, and help elevate poverty levels in developing nations.