June 1-7 has been, once again, declared “National Barefoot Week” by Soles4Souls, a Nashville-based charity that collects new and used shoes to be donated to people in need around the world. The week-long event is a yearly highlight the charity uses to encourage people to get involved in donating any type of footwear to be re-distributed in the US and other places where people might need it.
As part of the drive, Soles4Souls encourages people to take off their shoes and spend some time barefoot in order to personally experience what would it be like to have no shoes to put on their feet.
While I recognize this organization might be well-intentioned in its efforts, I must also pinpoint that it is actually helping further perpetuate wrong assumptions and stereotypes about living one’s life without shoes such as: shoes are indispensable to function in modern society, and bare feet are the ultimate sign of poverty and disgrace.
Having grown up (until I was 21) in El Salvador, one of the smallest and poorest nations in Latin America, I had the chance to observe and interact closely with a lot of these “poor” people who can’t afford a pair of shoes and, as far as I can remember, the biggest hardship that these people confront from not having shoes is discrimination and embarrassment due to social pre-conceptions — very similar to the ones we all barefooters confront on a daily basis up here in North America – whether we go barefoot because we’re destitute or because we simply feel it’s a better option to footwear.
What organizations like Soles4Souls, seem to miss is that this kind of charity is a perfect example of a “bandaid-type solution” since it doesn’t tackle the root of the problem but it gives a “pretty” solution to a problem that should not exist in the first place.
While it is very true that people in less fortunate areas need help, the last thing they probably need is a pair of shoes that will only last a few months, at best. Instead, How about using all the resources provided by donations and corporate sponsorship towards long-term solutions like literacy and education, health-care, community and infrastructure re-building, etc., etc.
It is also unfortunate, and borderline sad, to see that many fellow barefooters, and even a number of barefoot-advocating groups, are now buying into this “Barefoot Day/Week” craze by encouraging people to go barefoot in celebration of this “holiday” due to its misguiding name and not even knowing what they are supporting and promoting.
Let it be clear that I am not against charity or the efforts of Soles4Souls and any other organizations that donate shoes to people in need. I just find it a bit disturbing how these organizations are twisting their messages in order to gain support from unaware members of the general public.