How long has it been since you have gone barefoot for most of the day? Going to the pool or beach, or lounging outside or inside your house doesn’t count. When have you gone without shoes while you are out running errands, attending class, clothes shopping or attending an event. Maybe never, right?
On April 29th the Ontario campus’ Diversity Club, along with other student, staff and faculty volunteers, kicked off their shoes for the whole day in support of TOM’s shoes’ One Day Without Shoes campaign, which aims to bring awareness about the effects of being without shoes. TOMs works in partnership with over 100 companies worldwide, including Help the Children, an International Christian Organization, and SJVC’s liaison for this event for the past three years.
In the eight years since TOM’s owner, Blake Mycoskie, first introduced this campaign, TOMs has donated over 10 million pair of shoes in over 50 countries – including the U.S.
The Ontario campus gets involved each year in this important event for two reasons: “We spent the whole day shoeless to raise awareness for the millions of children throughout the world that go without protection for their feet,” says Erin Schlanger, Library and Learning Resource Coordinator and Diversity Club leader. “We got students out of their comfort zone and let them experience what is going on around the world – and even in their own backyard.”
Shoeless children run a high risk of foot diseases that gain entry through cuts that, left unattended, can maim, cripple or even take the lives of those affected. Medical attention is as scarce as shoes in many underdeveloped areas.
A major concern is podoconiosis, also known as elephantitus, which affects the lymph nodes and glands in the lower legs. As the disease advances the leg begins to swell and grow into heavy, grotesque shapes. Young victims risk losing all or part of the affected limb. Podo, as it is called, affects over four million people in over fifteen countries.
Education plays a large part in the prevention or reduction of infection and diseases caused by exposed and unprotected feet. But, awareness alone is not enough of a safe-guard; shoes are the greatest prevention. “Shoes for Health” is a stance TOMs intends to take across the globe.
The Ontario campus got lots of support materials to help promote this campaign in the form of TOM’s Toolkit. “We made posters and fliers to announce the event and emailed instructors to ask for help promoting it,” says Erin. “We raffled off t-shirts, stickers and TOM’s discount cards for everyone who participated.”
The campus had a great turnout, with lots of students excited to help the event to be both educational and successful. Students traced outlines of their feet onto butcher paper and wrote messages to children in other parts of the world, telling them why they went shoeless that day. Their words of caution and encouragement would find their way to children who needed to know that others care and were helping to provide the protection shoes would give them.
“Experience is the most valuable realization,” says Administrative Health Care Management student and Diversity Club member, Adilene Otero Gutierrez. “Walking without shoes allows you to walk in someone else’s metaphorical shoes.”
Most campus participants did not realize how awkward it would feel to be out in public without shoes – and how painful mobility without that thin veneer of protection might be.
“It made me more aware of what’s on the ground around me and what it means to my body to walk without shoes,” says Erin. “Those raised yellow things near handicapped spots; those hurt to walk on! The acorn caps and wooden mulch, I thought ‘this is insane’.” Slow and cautious steps became essential.
There was at least one other benefit to walking around barefoot all day; a heightened sense of the need for cleanliness.
“Cigarette butts, broken glass…any trash; or going into the bathroom definitely makes you think twice about people who will be using the facility next, as well as those who came before you,” says Erin. “It gave me a new level of respect for what is around me, and cleanliness took on a whole new definition.”
TOM’s One Day Without Shoes would like for everyone to “Experience a path that millions of children walk every day”. “It all starts with a single step”, they say. SJVC’s Ontario campus will take that step again next year, and the next, until all children have a better understanding about the importance of shoes and, hopefully, the pair of shoes they need for a healthier life.