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It seems flippant to say that I found going without shoes for one day incredibly difficult.

My bare feetIt’s not that I have a phobia about hygiene, but I just could not bring myself to walk across the shopping centre parking lot to our office with no shoes on. The discomfort of the tarred gravel, the dirt I would pick up with my feet and have to carry around with me all day, the embarrassment of being seen without shoes on in a public place…it was too much.

Which is exactly the point. The premise behind One Day Without Shoes is that there are millions of children in the world living in extreme poverty, growing up barefoot. They walk for miles without shoes to school and clinics, exposed to injury, infection, and soil-transmitted diseases…that most can’t afford to prevent or treat.

They’re at risk of hookworm, which can cause anemia, stunted development, and even heart failure; podoconiosis, which causes swelling of the feet and legs; jiggers, which causes severe itching and hives around the feet and ankles; and tetanus, which causes painful muscle spasms, locked jaw, and can eventually lead to death.

It’s too much. More than any child should ever have to live with.

TOMS was founded in 2006 with the premise that we can create a better tomorrow by taking compassionate action today. For every pair of TOMS shoes purchased, a pair of new shoes is given to a child in need.

One Day Without Shoes asks people to go without shoes to raise awareness for these children who are growing up barefoot – and the impact that a pair of shoes can have on their lives.

In more than 23 developing countries around the world, the importance of shoes is being recognised in health, education, hygiene, and community development programmes.

Soil-based diseases cause a variety of terrible physical symptoms, and cognitive impairment – which can cripple a child’s long-term potential. Children who are healthy though are more likely to be successful students, because ill health and an inability to attend school won’t stand in the way of their education, or their future.

While I was shuffling down the corridor, blushing over my bare feet, I was struck by how sad it is that I would stand out – being the only one not wearing shoes – but often in developing countries, the child wearing shoes is the one who stands out…in a bad way.

Because there’s a stigma attached to wearing shoes in a community where shoes are rare.

Next year, for One Day Without Shoes, I hope to see everyone getting out of their cars barefoot, braving the discomfort, the dirt, and the stigma – as so many children do each day.

Because it’s not too much to buy a pair of TOMS shoes – for every pair bought, a child in desperate need receives a pair of their own, to protect their feet, and their futures – and that’s just enough for each of us to do to make a difference.