Category Archives: Ethiopia

A company with a conscience…Toms Shoes

When I saw the AT&T commercial this weekend..I wasn’t feeling too good, and blew it off. But tonight when I saw it again, I hopped on ye olde computer and googled Tom and his shoe company.

I learned more than I ever thought possible about children in Africa that go shoeless. I learned that they get a horrible debilitating disease that literally destroys their feet and lower legs. It’s called Podoconiosis. In Ethiopia alone, between 500,000 and a million people are affected by Podoconiosis. There is one simple solution to this problem… shoes. From the Lancet link on the disease:

Podoconiosis (endemic non-filarial elephantiasis) is a geochemical disease in individuals exposed to red-clay soil derived from alkalic volcanic rock.1 It is a chronic and debilitating disorder that, although rarely seen outside endemic regions, is a serious public-health problem in at least ten countries in tropical Africa, Central America, and north India.2—7 It is unusual in being an entirely preventable non-communicable disease, and has been eradicated from Scotland, France, and the Canary Islands since footwear became routine.6 The disorder now occurs wherever irritant soils coexist with high altitude, high rainfall, and extremely low income, predominantly where subsistence farmers cannot afford shoes, socks, or even water to wash their feet.
In Ethiopia, where podoconiosis has been best described, prevalence is about 5% in areas of irritant soil.8 Podoconiosis is thus more common than HIV infection in these areas. About 11 million people (18% of the national population) live in endemic areas in Ethiopia, and between 500 000 and 1 million people are affected nationwide. Up to 64% of affected individuals are from the most economically active age-groups,8 and direct and productivity costs of podoconiosis in a group of 1·5 million inhabitants have been estimated at US$16 million a year.9 Social stigma towards people with podoconiosis is pronounced, leading to exclusion from school and religious and community gatherings, and a bar on marriage into non-affected families.
The epidemiological and clinical features are distinct and well described—the disorder occurs in barefooted farmers, weavers, and other occupational groups where exposure to volcanic soil is common.1 Affected populations tend to reside at high altitudes, with a geographical correlation with alkalic-type volcanoes.1, 10 Men and women are equally affected, and although most patients develop signs and symptoms between the ages of 10 and 30 years, individuals as young as 4 years could show early signs. Not all individuals exposed to irritant soil develop podoconiosis, and family clustering has long been observed. Genetic studies11 show high heritability of the trait, and segregation analysis suggests the presence of an autosomal codominant major gene conferring susceptibility to podoconiosis.
Disease is bilateral, but asymmetrical, and almost always below the knee (figure). Silica particles absorbed through the foot are thought to induce an inflammatory response in the lymphatic vessels, leading ultimately to fibrosis and obstruction of the vessel lumen.12 This event leads initially to oedema of the foot and lower leg, which progresses to severe elephantiasis, resembling infection seen in Wuchereria bancrofti. However, podoconiosis occurs at altitudes higher than 1500 m, which exceeds that at which filarial transmission occurs, and both midnight blood sampling and filarial antigen testing have consistently excluded filariasis as the cause of podoconiosis.5, 13
It’s horrible, it’s a parent, it made me cry that young lives are ruined by this disease of poverty.

Tom’s Shoes is trying to do something to stem this horrible disease, the business was created solely as a means to provide for children affected by this horrible disease. For every pair of shoes they sell, they give a pair to someone in nations affected by this debilitating disease. The shoes are rather pricey, but if you can’t afford the shoes, they also sell caps, T-shirts and other baubles that are more affordable. The founder, Blake Mykoskie has also met with President Obama, and has spoken about the disease with Bill Clinton and others that support helping impoverished nations.

I know that my plea will probably fall on deaf ears, but I had to write about it today. I had to. It’s not political, it’s humanitarian. We are all responsible for those less fortunate. The video below shows the human cost of podoconiosis, it’s graphic..but I ask that you watch it if for no other reason than to become educated on this disease. I hope it will also make you buy something from Tom’s Shoes to support their endeavor. From the website:

What we do

Since our beginning in May 2006, TOMS has given over 140,000* pairs of shoes to children in need through the purchases of caring customers. Because of your support, TOMS plans to give over 300,000 pairs of shoes to children in need around the world in 2009.

*As of April 2009

How we give

TOMS Shoes gives through trusted organizations and Shoe Drop Tours.

  1. Caring charitable organizations help TOMS distribute shoes to the children they support through their existing programs. Along with legally recognized 501(c)(3) non-profits and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO’s), TOMS gives shoes year-round. We are able to reach more children through these trusted and established methods.
  2. TOMS Shoes partners with Friends of TOMS, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that creates and coordinates avenues for further involvement in the TOMS One for One movement. This includes Shoe Drop Tour volunteer opportunities. Learn more at!

Learn more about One Day Without Shoes by clicking the image and going to their Facebook site.