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The Opportunity For Change Extends Beyond Our Front Door

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I often describe the progression of TOMS as a shoe company that began
three and a half years ago in my apartment in Venice, CA. I explain
that for months, TOMS was run entirely by myself and three interns and
then it grew from there. To describe the journey and evolution of TOMS
in such a general way though does no justice to how truly incredible
the TOMS story is and leaves out how many lives we have touched along
the way. TOMS has matured, as much as a company can really "mature" in
three years, into a company with a wider reach than I initially
anticipated. Our first Shoe Drop was in Argentina and to date, TOMS
has given shoes to children in over 15 countries. The Shoe Drops
themselves have evolved as well.



One year ago, TOMS headed out for our first domestic Shoe Drops in
Mississippi, Florida and Kentucky. In the States, we bring white
canvas TOMS and boxes of markers to the children, encouraging them to
unleash their creativity on their own custom pair of new shoes. Some
people are surprised to find out that there is a great need for shoes
in the U.S., but it's not uncommon to find kids cramming their feet
into shoes that are too small or kids that have never owned a new pair
of shoes in their life. The beautiful thing about a new pair of shoes
is how empowering they can be. You see the kids walk away in their
TOMS with their heads a little higher, shoulders a little straighter,
eager to show off the new kicks that they created. Twice now, I've had
the opportunity to join the Friends of TOMS volunteers on Shoe Drops
in New Orleans, an area of this country that has been through so much
over the past few years, but still home to a rich culture and an
amazing amount of hospitality. When you fit children from this area in
their shoes, or help them draw Spiderman, Michael Jackson or stars on
their TOMS, (all popular requests) you can see a genuine excitement
and appreciation in their faces. Moments like these remind you of the
power of compassion, and it's humbling to experience that right here
in our own backyard.



But the opportunity for change extends far beyond our front door.
Since 2008, TOMS has been in Ethiopia, focused on a debilitating
disease called Podoconiosis. It's difficult for me to even begin
conversation around a disease like Podo. The disease is devastating
for so many, yet the problem has received relatively no exposure. The
amount of information I could share about the situation is
overwhelming, but let me start with the basics. Podoconiosis is a
geo-chemical disease caused by the absorption of minerals, including
silica, from red clay volcanic soil through the feet. This particular
soil and mineral content has been found commonly in Ethiopia, but also
in Rwanda, Central America and even in Scotland. When these minerals
enter the lymphatic system through continued exposure from say,
walking barefoot, they cause the legs to swell to unmanageable and
grotesque sizes. Often, doctors treat these patients with an
anti-biotic because Podo is mistaken for a similar disease, but
anti-biotics do nothing for Podo patients. There is, however, a
surprisingly simple solution to prevention: shoes. That's where we
come in. Since there is evidence of genetic susceptibility to Podo,
TOMS now gives new shoes to the most at-risk children in Ethiopia,
children whose parents have been infected with Podoconiosis.



Podo has not been invisible because it isn't a debilitating disease
with an aggressive reach: it affects over 1 million people in Ethiopia
alone. Podo has been invisible because those affected are invisible.
In some local dialects, the word for leprosy is interchangeable with
Podo - the social stigma and embarrassment associated with this
disease causes those affected to stay in their homes, avoid human
interaction and not seek medical help. Beyond giving shoes to
children in Ethiopia, TOMS hopes to offer valuable education about
Podoconiosis, and what measures we can each take to get involved in
the future.



The future of One for One is exciting. TOMS will always host Shoe
Drops, but the different giving programs will reach more and more
countries, and allow TOMS to address a diverse set of issues. I will
always be the Chief Shoe Giver of TOMS, although new Chiefs arise and
bring great leadership to this company. And TOMS will always be One
for One, although that doesn't mean it will always just apply to
shoes. As human beings, we are all armed with such powerful tools like
passion, drive and optimism. If we use these and realize our ability
today, the world can surely have a better tomorrow.