By Anne Marie Amacher
BETTENDORF —When a seventh-grade Girl Scout troop learned about people who go shoeless in the United States and in other countries because they can’t afford shoes, the scouts decided to take action. Troop 8195 of Lourdes Catholic School undertook a community service project to make an impact locally.
Samantha Kersten, the troop’s leader, said the girls read information on a website about people going without shoes. The scouts didn’t realize how important shoes were. In some countries, kids can’t go to school because they don’t have shoes, she said.
Walking barefoot in impoverished areas can lead to serious health problems. According to the Asian Development Bank website, 30,000 people live in one landfill in the Philippines. There people walk on broken glass, syringes and debris each day because they have no shoes. In Kenya, 1.89 million children are infected with jiggers and burrowing fleas that cause painful lesions, according to Ahadi Kenya Trust. Around 4 million people have podoconiosis, a debilitating and disfiguring disease caused by living barefoot in volcanic soil, according to a website.
The World Health Organization estimated that 740 million people are affected by hookworm, a soil-transmitted parasite that can cause intestinal pain, weakness and cognitive impairment.
All of those health conditions are made worse because children do not have shoes and the parasites enter through cuts to the feet.
Although Kersten couldn’t find statistics on the number of Americans who do not have shoes, she stressed to the girls that they should help their community first. The scouts wanted to bring awareness to their fellow classmates at Lourdes, and proposed to Principal Katie Selden that students be allowed to go shoeless for part of a day.
With her approval, notes were sent home and posters were made to promote the day. Selden read the list of shoeless statistics over the public address system on April 10. That day the students in first through eighth grade had the option of going shoeless – while still wearing socks — from 8:45 a.m. to lunchtime. Students brought pennies or new/gently worn shoes to donate, but donations were not required to participate.
Kersten said $75 in pennies was collected and will be donated to Catholic Worker house in Davenport. Thirty-six pairs of shoes were collected and will be donated. She is coordinating efforts with TerraCycle and a local charity.
Scout Mackenzie Kersten said, “I learned that so many people go without shoes every day and that I am very blessed to be able to have a single pair of shoes.” Erin McGivern said, “I learned how important it is for children in Africa to have shoes and that some kids can’t go to school because they don’t have shoes.”
Selden said participating in this activity allowed the students to reflect on a basic need that can be taken for granted. “We often focus on hunger as an unmet need. Going without shoes was a different way to bring awareness of a bigger issue.
“It is important for our students to realize the needs of others and to respond in a way that would make Jesus happy.”