By Chelsea Stuart
In 2007, Kenton Lee was living and working in Nairobi, Kenya when he noticed just how many children in the community were either shoeless or wearing shoes that didn't fit their feet. After working with kids in an AIDs orphanage and seeing how completely ineffective their footwear was, he spoke with the director of the orphanage who told him that while they received donations from the US, most children grew out of their shoes in as little as six months.
In 2009, Lee created Because International, "an organization with a new youthful voice and a fresh message of innovation to bring better help and hope to the world." Soon after, his organization launched its first project, "The Shoe that Grows," a shoe that adjusts to five different sizes and lasts for five years. Made of leather and compressed rubber (similar to that of a tire) the shoes are long lasting and help to protect children's feet from soil transmitted diseases and parasites- a problem that affects over 2 billion people worldwide. Lee said that the entire experience at the orphanage led him to "open his eyes and heart to the fact that we can do a lot better with international humanitarian aid." He believes that just as innovation is key in the success of for-profit companies looking to improve their products, innovation is just as important, if not more so, in the humanitarian sector.
Globally there are 300 million children who live in extreme poverty without shoes. While children in struggling communities are often given donated shoes, they quickly outgrow them or wear them out and are once again left with no protection from the elements. The most revolutionary design aspect of The Shoe that Grows is not only its ability to withstand major wear and tear, but to change size as needed. The shoe comes in two sizes: small- which fits children from kindergarten to fourth grade, and large- which fits from fifth grade to ninth grade. Through a series of simple snaps, the shoe can either be tightened or loosened to accommodate changing size.
Since 2009, The Shoe that Grows has made its way to Kenya, Ecuador, Haiti and Ghana, as well as countries visited by the charity Hands of Hope. Shoes are transported and delivered by partner organizations around the globe, but it is through donations that they get to the communities that need them most. The simplest way to get involved with the organization is to donate $10 USD to help fill a duffle bag with shoes. Each duffle bag holds 50 pairs of shoes and once the duffles are filled, they're off to their destinations. If you are part of a mission group, church group or business that travels globally, you can also buy shoes in bulk to distribute yourself.
If you're interested in partnering with Because International and The Shoe that Grows, or volunteering some time, you can reach out directly to Lee by phone or email.
Aside from shoes, Because International is also starting to work on their "A Better Bednet" project which aims to help protect people from mosquito transmitted diseases like malaria. The idea is still in its very early stages, but they are looking for anyone who thinks they can help. If you have any suggestions for improving bednet designs, Lee and his team can be contacted here.
About the Writer
Chelsea Stuart is a recent graduate of Boston's Emerson College. When she's not reeling from wanderlust (she lived on a ship for four months and visited 15 countries with the study abroad program Semester at Sea), she's planning her next trip, reading, writing, thrifting, drinking an absurd amount of coffee and Netflix bingeing like any good Millennial. Her next feat includes a move to NYC - with her cat Chance at her side, to pursue a career in publishing.
All images via Because International
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