National Barefoot Day – South Africa

18 June 2014 is National Barefoot Day in South Africa. Taking a leaf out of the TOMS book, the National Barefoot Day which is organized by The Put Foot Foundation, urges South Africans to go barefoot for a day in order to highlight the plight of millions of underprivileged children who live every day without shoes. The Put Foot Foundation adds the word indignity to the plight of these children. Their mission statement: ‘Giving young, under-privileged children hope, pride, and dignity through a pair of brand new, 100% leather, quality, South African-made school shoes’. The message seems clear; going barefoot is something to be ashamed of, steals your hope, and going barefoot is simply not something to be proud of. Luckily the answer is fairly straight forward; let’s buy shoes for every underprivileged child who does not own shoes.

And this is the problem. We are not really solving the problem. Yes it is true that many children don’t have shoes, and yes, they do feel shamed by their lack of shoes. However, I am not so sure that funding, buying, and distributing shoes to these children are the answer. It might just be that there are bigger issues at hand. For example, why don’t we choose to address the prejudices of a society that connects the values of hope, pride, and dignity with the wearing of shoes? Won’t we do our children, and not only underprivileged children, a huge favour by teaching them that the essential values of hope, pride, and dignity are not found in the stuff that you own, including shoes.  Is it not much more important for children to learn that they should not judge others based on the quality, the kind of, or lack of attire; indeed that they should not judge at all. Surely this is a lesson that cannot be out grown and will stand them in good stead for the rest of their lives?

It is this inherent and underlying connection between pride and dignity and the wearing of shoes, which chafes so many barefooters in the world; to the extent that TOMS International One Day Without Shoes is called a hoax and a scam. They rightly argue that a healthier society is one where people can go barefoot if it is their choice, without struggling to enter shops, being frowned upon in public places, forced to wear shoes at work et cetera. But before we as barefooters vilify The Put Foot Foundations and the TOMS initiatives to quickly, let’s take a step back for a moment.

Although I disagree with the connection that The Put Foot Foundation establishes between the wearing of shoes and the dignity of a person, I have to applaud their efforts to shoe underprivileged children in South Africa. I know it seems like a contradiction to my argument above as well as my choice to live life barefoot. However, not everyone, and definitely not every child, live in the same environments that I do. To a large extent my privileged environment makes it possible to live barefoot. Most of the places I travel are serviced by decent municipal services; I do not have to walk through uncollected garbage, open and running sewage streams, stagnant water pools et cetera. I have warm clothes to wear on the coldest of days, although I even then choose not to wear shoes. Going barefoot to me is a choice, the children that The Put Foot Foundation tries to shoe does not have a choice; their default setting is barefoot. A photo, accompanying an article in the Sunday Times, paints the picture that the metaphorical thousand words cannot.

Image

Primary school children who, because the lack of governance, have to use toilets in some of the worst conditions I can imagine. It is conditions like these that steal the hope, pride, and dignity of children. The lack of shoes just add discomfort, and disease to their, already challenged, lives. It is in situations like these that the short term solution is indeed to give each and every child that live in these conditions a pair of shoes. But that is only the start, once you have given each of these children a pair of shoes, eliminated discomfort and disease from their lives, at least to some extent, the real job starts. The improvement of the basic living and educational conditions of these children as well as the education of a society that being shod is not more dignified than going barefoot.

It might just be that being shod is a pure societal construct that, in most cases, are detrimental to the health of most individuals, as well as society as a whole. If we go barefoot for a day to this end, it might just be a small step in the right direction.

Comrades 2013 T -1

Tomorrow morning, just before the crack of dawn, a cock will crow, a gun will erupt and thousands of pairs of feet will start the last, but most essential, part of a journey that started months ago. Tomorrow morning, just before the crack of dawn, Comrades 2013 will be in progress.

Usually this is somewhat of a non-event in my life, at least during the last few years. This year it is slightly different, and no I am not one of the pilgrims that will line up tomorrow morning. No, I am just in the vicinity of Durban, Ballito to be precise. And what a difference locality makes. Suddenly the path rolling along the seafront is bustling with eager (addicted) Comrades runners, the restaurants and coffee shops are filled with carbo-loading bodies and the airwaves filled with Comrades chatter. There is simply no avoiding it, Comrades fever is in the air.

And it seems, like in 1999, I caught a good dose of it. If you want to journey with me, stay tuned, it’s going to be an adventure not to be missed. Starting just before the crack of dawn tomorrow morning, I am starting my journey to Barefoot Comrades 2014.

Barefoot Comrades 2014 – The Challenge

Almost 1250 days ago, 1 January 2010, I decided to stop wearing shoes. With the odd exception, going mountain biking, running further than 10 km’s, and the odd occasion I get onto my scooter, I’ve been barefoot.

I go to shops barefoot, I attend weddings barefoot, I drive barefoot, I preach barefoot, I sleep barefoot, I take showers barefoot (sic!); all year round. Excluding the exceptions above, I do not wear shoes at all. Why? I’ll get to that in a later post. For now it is only important that for almost 3.5 years I’ve been going bare, at least as far as my feet are concerned.

So I think the time has come for a serious barefoot challenge, and Comrades 2014 is it. The challenge comes in two parts.

The first part; start, run, and complete Comrades 2014 barefoot. That is, run close on 90 km’s from Pietermaritzburg to Durban barefoot.

The second part; start the run not in Pietermaritzburg, but rather in Johannesburg. This will mean a run of approximately 600 km’s to get to the finish line of Comrades 2014.

At the moment this is an idea, a challenge, a journey, an adventure that is beckoning. More on the journey, the joys and pains, the ups and downs will follow on this blog.

Please contact me if you would like to become part of the journey!