Practical compassion – The shoe that grows

Image: Because International

This story first appeared on Benojo on July 13, 2015. Image courtesy of Because International.

The Shoe That Grows is a working example of ‘practical compassion’, the philosophy at the heart of Because International, the non-profit organisation that created it.

Made for growing feet

A shoe that adjusts and expands five sizes and lasts five years. It’s a simple innovation, but a highly effective one. With over two billion people globally affected by soil-transmitted parasites and diseases, and 300 million children globally who do not have shoes, the design is an inexpensive, functional solution with a long-term result.

Made from simple materials, including rubber, leather and snaps, The Shoe That Grows is durable, easy to clean, and is designed to grow with the children whose feet they protect.

Identifying a need

“I was traveling the world after college.  I lived in Quito, Ecuador.  And then I lived in Nairobi, Kenya.  While I was in Nairobi, I lived and worked at an orphanage with about 140 kids.  It was an incredible experience.  One day, we were walking to church when I looked down and saw a little girl with a white dress walking beside me.  I was shocked when I saw her feet because her shoes were way too small.  They were so small that she had to cut open the front of her shoes to let her toes stick out.  I looked around and noticed that many of the kids had shoes on that did not fit,” shares Kenton Lee, Because International’s founder and executive director.

“So I asked the director of the orphanage later that day, ‘Why do so many of the kids have shoes that don’t fit?’ He said that they had received a shipment of donated shoes more than a year before but had not received any more since then.  And they didn’t have enough money to buy the kids new shoes.  So they just had to make due with what they had.  And right then and there I thought to myself, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a pair of shoes that could adjust and expand?  A pair of shoes that could grow?’”

Dreams in development

After Lee provided some initial ideas around what the shoe should look like, Proof at Concept, a shoe design company in Portland, Oregan, helped develop and make it. The shoe comes in two sizes: small, which generally fits five-to-nine-year-olds and large, for ten-to-fourteen-year-olds. Both grow five sizes.

“The first time in the summer of 2012 that my wife and I took the first 100 prototype pairs of The Shoe with us back to Kenya – that was an incredible experience,” says Lee. “For so long, The Shoe was just an idea.  It took us years.  But we finally did it.  And there we were in Kenya putting these shoes on kids’ feet for the first time.  It was amazing and surreal.”

Practical compassion at work

The Shoe That Grows works with partner organisations around the world – including Malawi, India, Mexico and Cambodia – to get their shoes on the feet of children that need them most. Each pair of shoes costs US$15; alternatively donations extend to purchasing a duffle, with 50 pairs of shoes going to the project of your choice.

“Practical compassion is our mission,” says Lee.  “It is helping people with simple, everyday life kind of stuff.  That’s why our first project is simply about a shoe.  Something very simple. Something that is part of everyday life.  We are committed to using the lens of practical compassion for all of our projects.”

Just do it

Lee’s advice to anyone that has a cause they care about and want to help is to “jump in” and enjoy the ride: “Get started.  Do something – even if it is small.  Do something and keep pushing it – even if it takes years.  When you really believe in something – don’t have any preset expectations for what should happen.  Just enjoy the journey of being passionate about your cause.  It might take years (like it did for us!) before big things happen.  And maybe big things might never happen.  Either way – if you are passionate about your cause then get started and enjoy the journey.”