Maybe it's because when we first arrived in New York, times were tough and Ma used to cut a slit in the toe box of my sneakers when they got tight. That way, I could wear them for a few more weeks before having to buy new ones.
Or maybe it's because of Baba's stories about walking barefoot for miles to his village school in Bengal. "One pair of shoes," he told us. "That's all I had. I didn't want to ruin them in the mud."
Across the globe, shoes represent wealth, privilege, status, class. They prevent disease, protect the foot, enable children to attend school, and allow us to walk longer distances and carry heavier burdens. But not every parent can afford to buy shoes for their children.
Because shoes are so universal, they serve as the perfect symbol to connect us across cultures. Here's a three-step process to make that happen in the classroom or the family room.
1. Read a great story.
ONE THOUSAND TRACINGS by Lita Judge
In the aftermath of World War II, the author's family in America established contact with a family in Germany and to help them sent them supplies, including shoes. The German family was extremely grateful and asked if their American friends would help others in Europe. Soon shoe tracings from all over the continent started pouring in to the modest Midwest farm. (Find discussion guide here.)
FOUR FEET TWO SANDALS by Karen Lynn Williams and Khadra Mohammed
When relief workers bring used clothing to the refugee camp, everyone scrambles to grab whatever they can. Ten-year-old Lina is thrilled when she finds a sandal that fits her foot perfectly, until she sees that another girl has the matching shoe. But soon Lina and Feroza meet, each wearing one coveted sandal. Together they solve the problem of having four feet and two sandals. (Download .pdf discussion guide here.)
RUNNING SHOES by Frederick Lipp
More than anything Sophy wants to go to school, but there are no schools in her small Cambodian village. The nearest school is many miles away over terrible roads. When Sophy is given a pair of running shoes, her life changes forever. (Find out more here.)
2. Give away shoes
Thanks to the power of a good story or two, your hearts will be open to the possibilities of making a difference. The next step is to visit two websites with your kids and consider donating your extra shoes. If you're in a community where shoes are luxuries rather than necessities, these organizations might even help you get some for your children.
- Share Your Soles: an organization dedicated to getting shoes to those in greatest need around the world.
- Soles 4 Souls: A charity that collects gently worn shoes to donate them to those in need.
This week, consider participating in ONE DAY WITHOUT SHOES, a campaign created by the retailer TOMS Shoes:
On April 16th, we want you to leave your shoes at the door. Walk barefoot in an effort to create awareness about the impact a simple pair of shoes can have on one’s life. One Day Without Shoes was established in 2008, primarily on campuses around the US, as students rallied together for a one mile barefoot walk. This year, TOMS wants to inspire all individuals to take part. Perhaps you kick off your shoes during an afternoon meeting, or you walk 2 blocks barefoot, or carry your shoes in your hand just long enough for someone to ask, “Why?”