No Shoes, No Dignity

By Andrew Hiebert

“This happened to me

I’ve spent a lot of my life walking. This is true for most people but is especially true for me. I’ve been a band kid for most of my life, and beyond the marching itself, band logistics has seen me carrying all kinds of instruments, speakers, and stands through many environments, from tiny crawlspaces to long, dark roads. In my time with the sea cadets, I’ve walked hundreds of miles; I racked up 15 miles in one day traipsing through Oregon looking for exceedingly well-camouflaged 12 year olds. In that time, I’ve worn all manner of shoes; combat boots, dinkles, hiking boots, flip-flops, leather dress shoes, barefoot, you name it.  Some were better and some were worse (my city-boy feet were not ready to hike two miles, boulder to the base of a waterfall, go swimming, and then hike back in flip-flops), but through all this, one commonality remained: my feet hurt. 

“My story is not unique, here’s the problem”

The average person is expected to walk 150,000 miles in their lifetime (1). It is therefore not surprising that 87% of Americans claim to have experienced foot pain at some point in their lives. (2) Anecdotally, I’ve never met anyone whose feet could march an entire football game without complaint. Though widespread, general foot pain is no more a problem than common soreness, the pain is temporary, is the direct result of intense physical exertion, and lessens over an extended period of continual use. In the long period of enforced couch potato that followed the pandemic, I noticed my feet atrophy like every other muscle, but as I got up and started moving again, my feet regained their strength, and now I’m better than ever. 

However, there are more serious problems that can occur with your feet. I have been fortunate to avoid all but minor blisters, but I’ve seen many enthusiastic musicians laid low by common problems like athlete’s foot, bunions, and ingrown toenails (1). Even with the sturdy, precisely-engineered boots, careful medical attention, and near fanatical care for foot health I experienced in field ops, not everyone made it to the end of the training intact. Now, imagine these problems magnified by the multitude of systemic risk factors present in poorer communities. Kenyan children walking to school in 2019 faced widespread outbreaks of jiggers; nasty parasites that burrow into the thick skin of the sole and grow into hundreds of small, painful tumors. (3) Along with the physiological stress of barefoot walking, shoes are required to participate in many essential activities of youth. Athletics, school attendance (4), and basic mobility are all made difficult or impossible without access to one if not multiple pairs of sturdy, expensive shoes. Above all, children without shoes are denied a basic dignity that we have taken for granted for 10,000 years (5). 

“Here is a non-profit working to solve the problem”

There are several nonprofits working to provide shoes all around the world. Buckner International’s Shoes for Orphan Souls program is working within the institute’s larger efforts to provide apparel that complements other aid. Buckner International provides housing, food, infrastructure, and educational resources to underprivileged communities all over the world. They started the Shoes for Orphan Souls program when they realized the incredible extent to which footwear limited both access to resources and the recipients’ potential beyond them. Shoes for Orphan Souls collects new shoes from donors across the US.

“Here’s what you (the reader) can do to help, right now!”

The Shoes for Orphan Souls Program accepts donations in kind or in cash. They provide resources to host a shoe drive on their website: https://www.buckner.org/shoe-faqs.


1.Ten Common Foot Problems. Medical News Today. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/319190

2. Foot Problems. HealthAging.Org https://www.healthinaging.org/a-z-topic/foot-problems/basic-facts

3. Why Shoes Are The First Step Out Of Poverty. Buckner International. https://www.buckner.org/blog/why-shoes-are-the-first-step-out-of-poverty/

4. Child Poverty in the United States. ShoesThatFit. https://www.shoesthatfit.org/childhood-poverty/

5. Shoe. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shoe#:~:text=The%20earliest%20known%20shoes%20are,state%20of%20Oregon%20in%201938.

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