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Thinking about what's underfoot

On June 1 think about your shoes
shelley column pic
Barefoot by choice or by chance

As a young child I lived in a small community in Alberta. The population of Armena put it in the category of a hamlet, yet it was an amazing place to live with a school, store, church, grain elevator, ball diamonds and a busy outdoor skating rink.

It is where I attended school for grades one and two, learned to play t-ball and had fun at Friday night skating parties that seemed to draw people from all over to skate, sit around a warm fire, or sip hot chocolate in the shack. Armena also held amazing parades. I can't explain where all the floats came from but there were several, and it seemed every child decorated their bike to take part. My favorite was when we built a big clock and I represented the nursery rhyme "Hickory Dickory Dock".

There is a tendency to look back on childhood with rather tinted glasses and perhaps I am guilty of that right now. It wasn't without its problems to be sure, but as children it seemed rather wonderful. Maybe it's okay to remember it that way.

There were several families with children and we spent countless hours together enjoying life as a group. My family had a big backyard and a huge swing set complete with teeter totter, carriage, climbing pole and swings, as well as a sandbox and heavily treed area we called our jungle. Our backyard was often the gathering place for all the kids in town and from there we would plan our adventures.

We couldn't wait to kick off our shoes, run and play. That was often our life on summer days. Running through sprinklers. Burying our toes in the sand. Seeing how high we could make the swings go.

Oh to be that carefree. To throw off shoes and enjoy the unencumbered feeling of going barefoot and totally unconcerned about thistles, twigs or jagged stones that might be underneath. We delighted in the lushness of the lawn and the warmth of the sand. Nothing could slow us down. Nothing could spoil the fun.

Oh, to be a child and go barefoot again.

But…oh, to be a child and go barefoot…always. Without the option.

Millions of children worldwide live in extreme poverty. An estimated 300 million do not have a single pair of shoes. Shoes are a luxury. An unachievable dream.

Without shoes, children risk injury and infection. Some are unable to attend school either because of the grueling walk without the protection of footwear, or shoes themselves are part of the school uniform and without them a student cannot enroll. The lack of a pair of shoes can mean a closed door to education. It is not for want of ambition, desire or motivation, but simply the lack of shoes that limits the potential to learn.

If going without shoes is a choice, in a place where conditions are healthy and safe, that is one thing. But for many this is simply not the case. They are vulnerable to punctures, wounds, cuts, scrapes and burns. These wounds mean exposure to parasites and debilitating infections. Contaminated soil. Open sewer trenches. Those who hunt for food or sellable items in garbage heaps risk disease and injury from dirty, sharp or infected refuse.

Globally more than 1.5 billion people suffer from soil-transmitted diseases. Footwear can provide protection against this, but unfortunately there is little access to a simple pair of shoes.

Since 2005 individuals and organizations have marked 'Go Barefoot Day' on June 1, a day to be reminded of the wonderful feeling of going barefoot, but also to draw attention to the needs of so many for whom that is not a carefree choice, but a potential danger.

The average woman in our part of the world owns 27 pairs of shoes and wears seven or eight of them. Men come in right around 12 pair and wear two or three. What if we would consider donating the cost of a few of those less frequently worn ones to an organization working to provide footwear around the world?

I like shoes, but do I really need a different pair for each day of the month? 'Go Barefoot Day' can help us recall the freedom felt at not needing to wear shoes, but also the reality for those having to be barefoot no matter the activity or terrain beneath their feet. Carefree for some may mean choosing to kick off our footwear for a bit, while for others carefree could mean the protection and opportunity provided by footwear to call their own. Let's give that some thought the next time we look for space in our closet to put another pair of shoes. That's my outlook.