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Walking barefoot for poverty

Hanson donates $1 for every walker

Published: Sunday, October 25, 2009

Updated: Sunday, October 25, 2009 18:10


Emre Kelly

More than 400 people walked one mile barefoot with Hanson around the UCF campus on Saturday to help fight AIDS and poverty in Africa.

The walk was in partnership with TOMS Shoes, a nonprofit organization that gives one pair of shoes to a person in need for every pair of TOMS Shoes purchased. Hanson, the Grammy-nominated pop trio from Oklahoma, donated $1 for every person who registered and participated in the walk.

"This is not an awareness walk," Taylor Hanson said. "This is an action walk."

 Since last fall, more than 30,000 people have walked to support TOMS and shoe the shoeless in Africa, Hanson said. Hanson himself has walked 133 miles for the cause.

Registration began at 11:30 a.m. in front of the campus bookstore in the John T. Washington Center. The event was free, but participants could purchase Take the Walk, Hanson's book detailing the fight to end poverty and AIDS in Africa, with a percentage of the book sales going directly to TOMS. Participants also could enter to win a gift package that included a $50 TOMS gift card and a documentary on the cause.

"I'm here to support TOMS and the kids in Africa," said Dan Buchalter, a junior finance major. "I'm not worried about walking in the heat on campus barefoot because the kids in Africa do it every day."

Although the walk was aimed at providing shoes for those in need in Africa, participants could pledge their walk for a variety of different causes, such as building a school, drilling a fresh water well and providing adequate health care for mothers living with AIDS.

"I'm partaking in the walk because I think it's a good cause. It's definitely worth the risk to walk barefoot," April Brown, a sophomore accounting major, said.

About 300 people were registered for the walk at 12:30 p.m., said Emily McGone, vice president of TOMS at UCF.

Minutes before the walk began, Hanson was welcomed by a wave of screams as they walked out of the front doors of the bookstore.

"In many places, if kids don't have shoes, they can't go to school," Stephanie Cohen said. "With shoes, people are able to walk further and get educated."

Cohen is the president of the TOMS Shoes UCF campus club and is working toward a master's degree in social work.

"It's amazing to see so many people come out for the cause," she said.

With a megaphone in hand, Taylor Hanson thanked participants and fans for coming out for the cause and pledging their walk to people in need. He asked everyone to take off their shoes and hold them in the air. With one collective voice, Hanson and all 430 participants shouted, "Let's walk," and the one-mile barefoot walk began.

Hanson and the participants walked through the John T. Washington Center and into the Student Union where they shouted, "I'm taking the walk," to people inside. The walk continued outside of the Student Union and through Memory Mall to the UCF Arena. Taylor

Hanson, who led the walk, stopped everyone for a brief moment in front of the UCF Arena to let those behind catch up.

"We feel this walk is about setting the bar and we have the potential to make the greatest impact," Hanson said. "This walk is about the ability to reach out and be your own influencer."

The walk continued from the UCF Arena around Garage D and back through the Student Union. Participants encouraged people inside of the union to go barefoot and finish the walk with them. The walk ended back in front of the bookstore where everyone shouted together, "I took the walk."

"This is amazing. What a great group of people out here," Isaac Hanson said. "It's a lot harder to walk barefoot one mile than it is to just donate one, two or three dollars."

The event continued inside of the bookstore where Hanson gave an exclusive acoustic performance of the songs "Great Divide" and "Been There Before" for those who participated. The band also did a book signing after the performance.

Cohen was thrilled and moved by how many people came out for the barefoot walk.

"This is so cool," she said. "After all the work and planning, I just have chills. I think this is a really important cause."

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Thu Feb 25 2010 14:18
What happened to sandals made of leather?
Your name
Wed Oct 28 2009 15:57

Thanks for replying to my comment. I know about Podoconiosis. It is indeed a horrible affliction, and certainly if people are in an at-risk environment for it, shoes would be a great help. God bless you and Tom's Shoes for doing their part to eradicate this problem.

But I stand by my comments that in some cases, shoe charities have the capacity to do more harm than good. Again, this is not at all meant to denigrate the efforts of Tom's. I am basing my comments on what someone who lived in Africa for at least the extent of his Peace Corps term told everyone in a classroom environment - that sudden reliance on shoes for feet that are in otherwise good shape (and, I would add, not walking on red clay in an environment where volcanic soil is prevalent) is not necessarily a good thing. This is especially true when a continued shoe supply is not guaranteed, as was in the case when he served in Africa.

Now, I personally have never been to Africa, so I must take a backseat in terms of knowledge about the specific situation Tom's founder writes about. I can only offer my educated opinion, which is based largely on the observations of a former professor who *did* live in Africa. Whether or not this professor lived in an area where podoconiosis was a threat I have no idea, but I know that he said he saw more foot injuries after shoes wore out and those who formerly went barefoot found themselves barefoot again, but with weakened soles from the months of shoe-wearing.

It sounds like Tom's makes getting shoes to areas where this disease is common a priority, so I applaud them for that. But I would advise caution in embracing the idea that providing shoes is as important as, say, ensuring that sewage concerns are addressed in areas where the soil composition does not contribute to the threat of podoconiosis.

Keep up the good work, but please consider the increased risk-factors that the "temporary shoeing" some of these populations might bring. Again, I don't bring this up to criticize the intentions of Tom's or the people who support the charity. I bring it up because sometimes, good intentions can lead to not-so-good outcomes we hadn't even considered before doing our good deeds. My closing sentence in the original comment about playing on the heartstrings was written in that vein, not to blast the intentions of those who are doing or supporting work that is genuinely helpful.

Stephanie, President of TOMS at UCF
Tue Oct 27 2009 10:18
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We walk for a reason, not because it's Hanson. Their relief efforts are amazing and definitely making an impact. People NEED shoes. podoconiosis is horrible. Blake Mycoskie, the founder of TOMS shoes recently posted this to their website

"...In the areas of the greatest poverty, which often are also extremely remote, a willing person can build shelter, grow food and they can even seek elders and teachers to learn from, but it is highly unlikely that they can make a pair of shoes. Shoes require factories, machines and materials not typically found in nature. So in these areas, if there are diseases to be contracted in the absence of shoes, these people have little hope of escaping them. This is why we must continue to give aid in these areas, and while I am a big believer in teaching someone to fish instead of giving them fish, in this case, we must give them fish in order for them to learn other things that will allow them to improve their lives. Our work to prevent Podoconiosis, and our efforts to help raise the necessary funds to treat it, fall into this category and mission. I listened to some of the most intense stories of the human spirit in Sodo last week. I heard about women who tried to digest poison in order to avoid a continued life of shame and alienation, but who got a second chance from the Mossy Foot clinics with treatment, vocational job training and a pair of shoes. These women now have regular-sized feet, are back with the families that love them, and are dedicating their lives to informing patients in their communities that Podo can be prevented with durable shoes and simple hygiene, and if contracted, can be reversed with treatment,,,"

Mon Oct 26 2009 22:45
well all of that may be true in some cases, TOMS gives their shoes to people in areas where the disease podoconiosis is present. not only is the disease extremely debilitating, but it is 100% preventable with the use of shoes, and also curable with shoes and proper care. so in those cases, wearing shoes can actually save lives. they're not just a luxury or a gift from wealthy americans- they're a cure and a preventative measure against a very serious disease. TOMS has more about it on their website. you seem like an educated person- head on over and educate yourself on this.
Think About It Honestly
Mon Oct 26 2009 14:52
From the article: “In many places, if kids don’t have shoes, they can’t go to school,” Stephanie Cohen said. “With shoes, people are able to walk further and get educated."

Not to denigrate the efforts of Hanson or the well-intentioned walkers, but maybe part of the problem is the *dress code* for schools and not so much the lack of shoes. While I believe that everyone who *wants* shoes should have them (Lord knows there are oodles of shoes on this planet), some people - even those who can't really afford shoes - strongly prefer to be barefoot. Many studies show that barefoot walking strengthens the feet whereas as long-term shoe-wearing weakens them.

I knew a man who served in the Peace Corps in the 1970s and he said that well-meaning charities would donate shoes to Africans. Not wanting to offend those who gave them gifts, they would wear these shoes until the shoes wore out. By that time, their once-toughened and more-than-adequate bare feet would soften, thus leaving them more susceptible to injuries. In some ways, these barefoot populations are being robbed of a very important defense mechanism - toughened feet - by delivering all these shoes. Especially if there is no guarantee of a continued shoe supply once their foot muscles start to weaken and atrophy from shoe-wearing.

By all means, if people are in need of shoes because they live in areas where the terrain is too rough for bare feet or the sewage is inadequate, let's help them out. But if it's just a matter of easing our collective conscience by shipping shoes to people who really don't need - or want - them, then perhaps this particular charity is doing more harm than good. Better to focus on restoring conditions where bare feet are safe than trying to shoe the whole world - unless, of course, you happen to be involved with a "shoe charity" that plays on the heartstrings of Americans who really have no concept of the consequences of their actions,

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