Pushing the silk Christmas table runner and the glittery glass balls aside, we traced and cut, pinned and matched, our heads bent low over bright striped cotton and denim cloth. We were quiet, Christmas carols from the iPod filling the dining room as we guided pinking shears and scissors along Sharpie lines, tracing patterns for toddler size tens that will make their way from Nebraska to Uganda.
“Just think about this for a second,” Brad said, holding up a pair of castoff jeans. “A little kid in Africa will actually wear the shoes that you are making today. You are making an actual pair of shoes for someone.” Rowan nodded without lifting his eyes from the cloth spread out in front of him.
I first heard about Sole Hope at the Allume conference this past October, and when I learned how one simple pair of cloth shoes with rubber tire soles could change the life of a child in Africa — even perhaps save the life of a child in Africa — I was sold.
Ugandan kids who go barefoot (which is most of them) are susceptible to jiggers — sand fleas that borrow into the soles of tender feet, where they lay their eggs and ultimately cause severe discomfort and often even serious infection resulting in paralysis and amputation if the infection goes untreated. Removing the parasites and eggs with a needle or pin without proper sterilization or anesthetic is not only extremely painful but also dangerous, as it can lead to the spread of HIV and other life-threatening conditions.
Before we began to trace and cut, I insisted that my kids watch the online video depicting children who suffer from jiggers and the process they often endure to remove the parasites from their feet. Rowan was unable to eat lunch afterwards. It was gruesome and heart-wrenching to watch, but for someone with more than a dozen pairs of shoes in her closet, the video brought the devastating reality of jiggers right into my home, as well as into my heart.
The sad fact is that infection caused by jiggers is entirely and easily preventable. Let me say that again: Infection that causes the suffering of thousands of children across Africa is entirely and easily preventable.
All a child needs to protect himself is a single pair of simple shoes.
On Sunday, we cut patterns from denim and cotton, materials that will be used by Ugandan women who will be paid a fair wage to sew five pairs of toddler-sized shoes to cover five pairs of toddler-size feet. We traced patterns from paper cut-outs onto cloth and old jeans, cut out the pieces and grouped them into five sets, each held together with a safety pin.
Later, when I laid the pieces out on the coffee table next to the nativity, they didn’t look like much – a few pieces of bright fabric, old denim, half-moon heel supports cut from plastic folders purchased at Walgreen’s. And it’s true, it wasn’t much: one hour of effort, a $15 starter kit from Sole Hope, the materials for five pairs of simple shoes.
But it was something. It was one small thing done in great love. Five pairs of shoes. Ten small soles.
And it was also, I pray, one small way to offer big hope to small souls.
What do you think? #SmallThingsGreatLove