Three Organizations That Help People Without ShoesShoes are much more than a fashion statement. Shoes play a major role in granting people health and access to opportunities. Several nonprofits and charities work to give shoes to people who need them. Before learning about three organizations that help people without shoes, here is why living barefoot is problematic and even deadly.

Across the world, around 300 million people cannot afford shoes. Shoes are often part of a school or work uniform, so without shoes, children and adults have a harder time getting an education or contributing to the household income.

In addition, going barefoot presents a number of hazards, from burns and injury to catching an illness or fungus. Any one of these dangers could negatively impact someone by keeping them sick at home or in a hospital.

More than 20 million orphaned children are without shoes in sub-Saharan Africa, where temperatures frequently rise above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. These harsh temperatures can be physically agonizing to bare feet.

Orphaned or homeless children who are shoeless can be at further risk of injury if they search for food or other items in places like abandoned buildings and garbage dumps. They could step on glass, nails and other sharp objects that could cause an infection.

People without shoes, especially in underdeveloped areas of Africa and Asia, are also susceptible to hookworm disease. A hookworm burrowing into the foot causes this parasitic disease. Hookworms live in soil or water contaminated by feces.

Without treatment, hookworm disease and other parasitic infections can lead to chronic illness, amputations and death. Hookworm disease has adverse effects on school performance, childhood growth, work productivity and pregnancy, according to the World Health Organization.

Here are three organizations that help people without shoes.

  1. The Shoe That Grows
    This organization believes in “putting kids in the best possible position to succeed.” It provides long-lasting shoes to children in need. It’s adjustable, expandable shoe design solves the problem of kids quickly outgrowing their shoes and needing new ones. The Show That Grows is working toward producing shoes in countries that need shoes and jobs, such as Haiti and Ethiopia. The organization works with partners that distribute the expandable shoes to underserved communities on every continent except Antarctica.
  2. The Shoe Project
    Shoes are not just a dream for people in underdeveloped countries. Some homeless people and others living in poverty in the United States need shoes to stave off extreme temperatures and infection, as well as to help them get back on their feet. The Shoe Project works around the world and in its home city of Cincinnati. In addition to breaking down education barriers and improving health, the organization believes “new footwear empowers people psychologically and economically to find a job.” With a new pair of shoes, people can regain confidence and find opportunities.
  3. Souls4Soles
    This nonprofit began as a disaster relief agency, distributing shoes to people impacted by natural events like tsunamis and hurricanes. Today it has expanded distribution year-round. Souls4Soles accepts all kinds of shoes and sends good quality ones to distribution centers in 127 countries. Shoes in need of repair are sent to micro-enterprise programs where workers clean and refurbish the shoes to sell in their small businesses. The Souls4Soles website says donations provide a constant supply of product to thousands of entrepreneurs, which allows them to sustain their businesses and rise out of poverty.

These three organizations that help people without shoes, as well as several others around the world, have helped millions of children and adults that cannot afford the basic necessity of footwear. The shoes can change the life of someone living in poverty by allowing them to go to school or work, safeguarding them from injury and infection and giving them the confidence they need to take hold of their future.

Kristen Reesor

Photo: Google


Although the average consumer would be willing to pay 15% more for a product to ensure it was not made in a sweatshop, doubling the salary of a sweatshop worker would only increase prices by 1.8%. It is surprising, then, that the shoe industry continues to support sweatshop conditions.

Many clothing brands have attempted to be a force for good. Footwear brand TOMS has become a major force for the “one-for-one” charitable model that has since been picked up by many brands. Nike, a brand notorious for its own labor violations, has engaged in a variety of charity products. These options are readily available, but for a brand that improves labor conditions and empowers workers in Africa, you cannot do better than Oliberté footwear.

Oliberté, which describes itself as “the world’s first Fair Trade Certified footwear manufacturing facility,” was founded by Canadian Tal Dehtiar, founder of MBAs Without Borders. Dehtiar describes his goal as not simply creating an ethical brand of African footwear, but creating a quality brand of African footwear. “We don’t want people to think of Africa as the next China. We want them to think of it as the next Italy,” he said.

With its stylish selection of shoes and footwear, along with its waterproofing “gorilla wax,” Oliberté does just that. All Oliberté shoes are made at a factory in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. By working to increase employment and fair wages, along with improving working conditions at its own factory, the company supports breaking the generational cycle of poverty through social enterprise, a key point in its business plan.

Along with promoting ethical pay for workers in Ethiopia, Oliberté shoes are sourced from free-range cows, sheep and goats. This is very important for the many Ethiopians who remain economically independent on livestock.

Stylish, sturdy and ethical, Oliberté shoes are not simply a footwear brand but a new perspective on Africa. Instead of casting Africa as weak and hopeless, the brand supports empowerment that goes beyond the traditional white savior narrative of many brands working in the region. And the shoes feel great.

– Andrew Michaels

Sources: Good, Stand 4, Oliberté, Oliberté 2
Photo: Atelier Fifty Five

Living in one of the wealthiest nations in the world ideally means full-access to core tenants of liberty – democracy and freedom. Indeed, American citizens exercise their freedom in a multitude of manners, quite notably exercising their freedom to consume.

Women, in particular, dole out about $370 per year, adding up to approximately $25,000 spent on footwear in a lifetime. Additionally, the average woman owns up to 469 pairs of shoes within a 67 year period, averaging about seven pairs per year.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, $146 is an adequate budget in order to feed a family of four a healthy diet per week. Thus, the amount of money that a women, on average, spends a year on shoes is enough to feed a family of four for almost three weeks. Furthermore, the amount of money a woman invests in footwear over the course of her lifetime could have sustained a family of four for 171 weeks, or over three years.

The amount of money that Western women spend on shoes could also have been used to purchase a first-hand car or invested in higher-education. A study by Mintel indicates that men surprisingly spend more money on shoes than women do. Why is this? Although women may purchase more shoes, Colin Chapman of The Guardian decrees that “[…] men’s fashion items are often investments — a good suit, a great overcoat, and a decent pair of shoes have never been cheap to buy, but were built to last season upon season.” Therefore, this statistic does not imply that men buy more than women, but that perhaps men are more concerned with higher-priced durability as opposed to quantity.

Collectively, Americans annually spend about $100 billion on shoes, jewelry, and watches, while $99 billion is allocated towards obtaining a higher education. Furthermore, Westerners annually allocate $100 billion toward purchasing shoes, while the United States designates $50 billion for foreign aid – half of the amount that people spend on footwear yearly.

Perhaps Western spending tactics on footwear gives a glimpse into the massive global wealth inequality that is very much extant in modern times. While 50% of the world survives on less than $2.50 a day to garner food, shelter, clothing, and medical assistance, Westerners collectively spend billions of dollars on luxuries such as footwear and accessories.

Phoebe Pradham

Sources: World Bank, Huffington Post, Psychology Today, The Guardian, Glamour, USA Today, Sodahead, TIME
Photo: Web Stock Pro

One way to save millions of lives from preventable parasitic diseases that strike unprotected feet could be the ingeniously simple and inexpensive Unifold shoes, designed by Horatio Yuxin Han and Kevin Crowley of Pratt Institute.

Aside from being elegantly fashionable, these shoes were designed to be affordable for everyone. This was accomplished by the creation of a shoe that is easy and inexpensive to manufacture and ship.

The process behind the production of most shoes on the market today involves molding and many small parts put together, a complicated process that results in bulky shoes, which take up a lot of space in shipping containers. The solution that Han and Crowley developed was inspired by the age-old art of origami. The team at Pratt designed a pair of foldable shoes made of foam rubber cut into a one-dimensional pattern, making the shoes highly efficient to ship because they come totally flat. In fact, they may not require shipping at all since the pattern could be downloaded and printed out on foam rubber at a local shop–the definition of thinking outside of the box.

Unifold shoes ultimately take shape after a quick and easy do-it-yourself step: you simply fold each shoe around your feet, making for the perfect fit. This step requires no molding, gluing, sewing or lacing.

While the Unifold project is still in its early conceptual stages, the students from Pratt are working towards making these shoes accessible to the 300 million people who walk around day by day without shoes on their feet to protect them from deadly infections and parasites.

– Jennifer Bills

Sources: FastCoDesign, 
Photo: ConceptKicks

Toms Founder Responds Criticism Development
They’ve become a staple in the closets of many. The bright colors and eccentric patterns fill department store walls plastered with the signs “One for One.” TOMS shoes has become a well-known and very popular shoe brand over the years not only for the comfortable canvas slip-ons the company is known for, but also its promise to give back.

For every pair of TOMS shoes sold, the company gives away another pair to someone in need. This “One for One” philosophy has helped people throughout the developing world by providing them with footwear where they otherwise would not be able to afford such a luxury.

Despite its generous initiative, where the company has given 10 million pairs of shoes to children in need over the past seven years, many see TOMS’ do-good mission as a marketing ploy, rather than a genuine attempt at making a difference in the developing world.

In fact, because the company is for-profit instead of a nonprofit charity, the TOMS ‘One for One’ business model is purely just that—a tool for Western business expansion that undermines developing nations’ economies by not attacking the real roots of poverty. Instead, critics say that the company makes matters worse by undermining local footwear industries in the countries that receive the shoes.

TOMS founder Blake Mycoskie recently responded to criticism about his company’s motives as well as his own when he first created the brand.

“I didn’t come out thinking, ‘Hey, we’re going to solve the world’s problems. We’re focused on helping people that needed something that we can provide,” he said in an interview with the Huffington Post.

By providing children in the developing world with shoes, TOMS helps to promote education, as children in poorer countries are oftentimes required to wear shoes to attend school. Also the company helps to protect adult and children’s feet from cuts and infections which keeps them healthy.

The company also expanded its giving profile in 2011 to include eyewear, thus donating professional eye care treatment as well as eye glasses to people in the developing world in the hopes of decreasing the high amount of visual impairment in poorer countries.

Mycoskie also plans to take the company beyond shoes and eyewear hopefully by getting involved with micro finance initiatives, clean drinking water, education supplies, and hunger.

Recently, the brand has also promised to produce one-third of TOMS shoes in the countries where they are donated in order to create local employment.

However, Mycoskie has learned that no matter what he plans to do with TOMS, there will always be criticism.

“No matter what, you’re going to have someone who’s going to be critical. I invite those people to come on a trip and see the impact,” he said.

Elisha-Kim Desmangles

Sources: Huffington Post, TOMS
Photo: PhotoPin