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TOMS shoes walk the talk

Summer vacation gives Mehek Sethi a new appreciation for shoes


by: STAFF PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Medek Sethi helped distribute TOMS Shoes to underpriviledged children in India. For every pair of TOMS shoes purchased, a pair is donated to children throughout the world via TOMS One for One Movement.Mehek Sethi sees shoes in a whole new light this fall.

The Lake Oswego High School senior enjoys fashion, but she is also very aware that what she purchases can benefit a child somewhere in the world without shoes.

“I remember the last time I walked into Nordstrom and bought a pair of TOMS,” Sethi said. “I was stuck between two styles and the saleswoman said, ‘Get them both — don’t feel guilty — it’s 'One for One.' You are donating a pair to an underprivileged kid.’ Sure that was a great selling point, but I often wondered is it just that — a selling point? Does TOMS actually donate a pair of shoes to a child in need? This summer I got my answer. … Oh, yes they do!”

Sethi’s family visits relatives in India each summer, and she learned that the Joyce Meyer Center’s Hand of Hope India program distributes TOMS to children around Hyderabad, near where they would be for the summer. Sethi made some inquiries and arranged to help with the volunteer efforts of the organization.

In 2006, American traveler Blake Mycoskie created TOMS shoes and its One for One movement after discovering the children he befriended in Argentina had no shoes to protect their feet. Every purchase of TOMS shoes was matched with a pair being donated to a child in need — One for One. Today, TOMS shoes are distributed to needy children in more than 40 locations across the globe.

“I was eager to get in touch with the organization and get involved,” Sethi said. “I really wanted to see how it all happened. On my first day joining the gang, I really had no idea what to expect. I got a tour of the office and the warehouse and finally it was time to go. I remember scrunching into the back seat of a Tempo (small truck with a bed that can carry a big payload) with my mom and driving out farther and farther into a village.

"When we finally arrived, the scene was quite different to what I am used to. I was shocked to see that most of the kids didn’t have proper shoe attire. I felt so guilty to see these kids and thought of how, back home, my friends and I have dozens and dozens of pairs of shoes, yet we still complain.”

Sethi said the Tempo had been loaded with crates and crates of shoes in all sizes. The shoes were all black, of a unisex style and with a thicker sole than those sold in the United States. Classroom by classroom the children were measured and given shoes, and the size was recorded on a computer.

“They keep track of what they gave the children last, and every six months they are given the next size up," Sethi said. "This goes on until the child is 18 — they are set for life!”

In addition to providing shoes, volunteers teach why shoes are important and how to keep feet healthy. A leading cause of disease in developing countries is transmitted in soil and can penetrate the skin through bare feet. Wearing shoes can help prevent these diseases and the long-term physical and cognitive harm they cause. Wearing shoes also prevents feet from getting cuts and sores, which are not only painful but are dangerous when the wounds become infected.

Many times children can’t attend school barefoot because shoes are a required part of their uniform. If they don’t have shoes, they don’t go to school, which limits their education and opportunity to realize their potential.

“The school officials treated us so well, and the children are so happy and grateful,” said Sethi.

She said volunteering with Hand of Hope was an eye-opening experience for her younger sister, Fiza.

“It was a good experience for her. I think the program really solidifies what I value: education and appreciating what we have.”

To learn more about the TOMS shoes One for One program, visit toms.com/our-movement. To learn more about Joyce Meyer Ministries Hand of Hope program, visit joycemeyer.org.



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