TOMS helps shoeless Ethiopians

Aug 3, 2009 at 4:53 p.m. ET

Most of us don't think of shoes as a luxury. We wear flip-flops to the pool, slippers in the house and tennis shoes to jog. However, for many children in underprivileged countries, going barefoot is a norm that causes illness and even amputation.

Dangerous disease

The leading cause of disease in developing countries is soil-transmitted parasites that penetrate the skin through open sores caused by walking barefoot. In most of these countries, walking is the main mode of transportation, and going barefoot causes cuts and sores that can be both painful and dangerous. TOMS Shoes is taking a huge step toward helping children in these countries, matching every pair of shoes purchased with a pair for a child in need.

"One for One"

The company's founder, American traveler Blake Mycoskie, came up with the idea in 2006 after befriending children while on vacation in Argentina and discovering they had no shoes. Upon returning to the US, Mycoskie started a shoe company called TOMS. His company's motto, "One for One," reflects its business model: For every pair of shoes purchased, TOMS donates one pair to a child in need.

Later that year, Mycoskie returned to Argentina with a group of family, friends and staff with more than 10,000 pairs of shoes to donate to the community, all made possible through TOMS customers.

"The most rewarding part of giving shoes to these children is seeing the smiles on their faces once the perfect shoe has been fitted on them," Mycoskie said. "With a simple pair of shoes, a child is able to go to school and escape infections that come from cuts and scrapes [gotten while] walking barefoot."

Shoes for education

The effects of wearing shoes run deeper than just disease prevention. Many schools in these countries require shoes as part of the uniform. Without shoes, children can't attend school. And without school, their futures are greatly limited.

Since the company's inception in 2006, TOMS has given more than 140,000 pairs of shoes to children in need and plans to donate more than 300,000 pairs of shoes in 2009 alone. The company has provided shoes for children in Argentina, South Africa, Ethiopia and the United States.

What's ahead?

TOMS Shoes' main focus for 2009 is preventing a horrible disease in Ethiopia called podoconiosis. Podo is a deforming and debilitating foot disease caused by walking barefoot in silica-rich soil; it has affected nearly 1 million people. In an effort to decrease that number, TOMS is now giving a special rubber boot to at-risk children in Ethiopia that will help fight the spread of this malicious disease.

How to help

Want to help by purchasing a pair of shoes? Shop TOMS and learn more about the company at

Don't want to buy a pair of TOMS shoes but still want to help? Donate to TOMS by visiting The donation will not go toward a pair of shoes but instead toward treatment of Ethiopians affected by podoconiosis. The treatment kit includes a bar of soap, disinfectant, ointment and bandages. Each contribution is a leap forward for developing countries.

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