There is now an awareness day for literally everything – Buffet Day, Ferris Wheel Day, and even Ask a Stupid Question Day. Don’t believe me? Google it now, or wait until Sept. 15, which is National Google.com Day.
With so much noise in the awareness day space, it is easy to miss the days that are actually about impactful issues. You may be quick to dismiss National Shoe the World Day on March 15 as insignificant, but for the estimated 300 million children around the world without shoes, there is real value in continuing this conversation.
Since 1999, Buckner Shoes for Orphan Souls® has collected new shoes from across the U.S. and distributed them domestically and internationally to children living in poverty. Individuals, organizations, and churches have helped us collect millions of shoes for children served by Buckner Children and Family Services programs. And today, we're introducing you to a new way to experience transforming a child's life when you gift a pair of shoes.
During a recent distribution trip in Guatemala, one of my colleagues told me the story of Jimena Reyes, also featured in the latest Buckner Today.
Jimena was a child in pain. She had long outgrown her only pair of shoes, which caused blisters and chafing. She even stopped wearing socks to try and give her feet more room. Jimena didn’t want to ask her mother for new shoes though because they didn’t have the money. As a single mother with two children, Mrs. Reyes cleaned houses and washed clothes to put food on the table.
As a Buckner volunteer placed a new pair of pink shoes on Jimena’s feet, her face beamed with a giant grin. For Jimena, it was about being able to run and skip without pain, but for me, a pair of shoes is about so much more.
One pair of shoes can transform an entire family's life
Though an afterthought for many, new shoes can be the catalyst to transformation in the lives of children. That’s because new shoes offer health, education, hope and opportunity. I know that seems like a lot to attribute to what is essentially leather, rubber, laces and glue, but you have to consider their reality.
When a child like Jimena does not have access to shoes that fit properly, the logical alternative is to wear shoes that are ill-fitting and cause pain and discomfort, or to simply go barefoot. Going barefoot means walking across muddy, rocky terrains without protection, which leaves these children exposed to parasites and diseases like hookworm, jiggers and tetanus – illnesses that can stunt a child’s growth and development.
From an education standpoint, most schools require children to wear shoes to attend. Having access to shoes increases a child’s attendance rate and likelihood of surpassing their parent’s level of education.
And every time a child puts on their new pair of shoes, they are filled with hope and reminded they are loved. Whether the child is from Latin America, Africa or right here in Texas, having something new that belongs to them helps elevate their self-worth.
More opportunities are available to children as a result of health, education and hope. We also combine the gift of new shoes with holistic ministries offered by Buckner. Jimena’s family members are now regulars at our Buckner Family Hope Center® in Jocotenango, where they are enrolled in classes that address finances, parenting, health and more to help elevate the family out of poverty.
One of our family coaches in Jocotenango says that without support, Jimena would be more likely to become a mother at a young age, drop out of school to help her mother make money, or even get involved with gangs and unhealthy vices.
Instead, Jimena and children like her can begin to dream about a life of hope for herself and her community. They can imagine this because it’s more than just a pair of shoes.
Change a child's life today
Helping to spread the word about the impact of shoes on a child’s future is what an awareness day is supposed to be about. Anyone can join our mission to serve vulnerable children by visiting our new giving experience to gift a new pair of shoes or by donating gently worn shoes to any number of other nonprofits. And while my family enjoys National Pizza Day each year because pizza is delicious, it doesn’t have the same ability to change lives as Shoe the World Day.
Shawn Spurrier is the director of Buckner Shoes for Orphan Souls, the largest humanitarian aid project of nonprofit Buckner International.