Love in Action: Shoes that Grow

Every parent knows how hard it is to keep a kid in shoes. They grow so fast, it seems like you're buying a new pair every few months. 

But what if you can't buy a new pair? What if your child must go barefoot, or cut the toes out of shoes that are too small? And what if your child walks miles every day to get to school, and what if he is constantly picking up diseases and parasites through the inevitable cuts and scrapes on his feet?

Charity worker-turned-social entrepreneur Kenton Lee found it intolerable that so many third world children were going shoeless, so he invented a pair of sturdy, adjustable shoes that grow with their owners' feet -- up to five sizes. Durable enough to last five years, the shoes are made of leather and compressed rubber, and expand both in length and width.

The shoes are funded by donation. They cost $10 each, and once fifty pairs are funded, Because International ships a duffle bag full of shoes to children in need around the globe. Because the organization received much more attention than they expected, they are sold out of shoes at the moment, but expect to have a new shipment ready in July.

I always recommend that donors check out charities through Charity Navigator or GuideStar or some other charity rating organization, but I haven't been able to find out much information about the mother organization, Because International --  most likely just because it's new. "The Shoe that Grows" is the first project of this 501(c)3 organization. 

My favorite charities tend to have a very narrow focus. Lee, the inventor of the shoe, didn't try to save the whole world. He simply saw one specific problem, and kept thinking about it until he came up with one specific solution. This is right on target with Mother Teresa's exhortation: "If you can't feed a hundred people, then feed just one." 

I also appreciate how the solution is tailored to the actual needs of the people it tries to serve. A few years ago, I wrote about a team of students who invented a low-cost infant incubator for use in third world countries. They discovered that their original product worked in theory, but wasn't useful for the people they wanted to help, because the design led to cultural misunderstandings. So they redesigned it specifically to be useful for the people they wanted to help, and they saved lives.

In a less dramatic way, The Shoe that Grows has done the same: they have focussed on helping actual people, rather than just doing things that seem like they ought to be helpful: So far, at least, they aren't making these highly practical shoes in sizes for teenagers. Why? Because, according to this Buzzfeed interview, 

we were told that they didn’t want to wear ‘charity shoes,’ they wanted to wear something cooler.”

Fair enough! It makes good sense to acknowledge the way teenagers will behave, rather than sinking thousands of dollars into a product that no one wants to use. Meanwhile, as of April of this year, Lee says that "about 2,500 children across seven countries are wearing the shoes, including in Ghana, Haiti, Peru, Colombia, and Kenya." Lee calls this project an example of "practical compassion." Doestoevsky called in "love in action."