04/10/2012 11:17 am ET Updated Jun 10, 2012

Be an Advocate (Not a Bystander): Why One Day Without Shoes Is Important to Me

One Day Without Shoes is taking place on April 10th this year. What relevance does it have to anyone... to me? Is it purposeful? Can it truly transform and impact a life? Let me share with you the purpose it plays through a message I emphasize to my students about the growing issue of bullying. I am fortunate enough to work with young kids every day as a Special Education teacher. I work hard to ensure my students' academic, physical, and emotional needs are met. It's my priority that they feel safe at school. For this to happen, I emphasize to all students that none of us can be a bystander to bullying, that we must all try our best to support and stand up for each other. Bystanders consistently witness some sort of injustice, or as my kiddos put it, "something that is unfair and really mean and not nice," but choose not to do anything to stop it.

One Day Without Shoes is a day where we each can choose NOT to be a bystander. Many of us hear about injustices daily. One Day Without Shoes brings to the surface that many children around the world go without shoes. Yes, there are cultures that do not wear shoes -- I recognize and respect that. However, there are thousands of children that go barefoot or without proper footwear each day not by choice. They walk miles over rough terrain to get clean water and often cannot attend school, as shoes are a required part of a uniform. As a passionate educator, this pulls at my heartstrings. Day after day, we're aware of those with limited access to something as simple as shoes, yet many of us choose inaction either because we may be scared or don't believe we can make an impact. I'm guilty of it. Like many of my students we find ourselves saying, "I see it, I want to help, but I don't know how or if I can."

One Day Without Shoes is an easy way for individuals to take action to bring about change for children whose basic needs are unmet. In a society where shoes are common, going one day without shoes makes a statement. It draws the attention of others and brings forth questions like, "Why are you barefoot?" By going without shoes and educating others, you're no longer a bystander. Just like that. You have informed someone who may have the resources to help in a much bigger and direct way. One by one, people will join this movement.

What does One Day Without Shoes look like? Let's put it this way: One person walking around without shoes = that person might be a little nutty. Thousands of people walking around without shoes = a movement. While at Ohio State, I helped host two One Day Without Shoes events with other students who wanted to raise awareness about the impact a pair of shoes can have on a child's life. I have seen first-hand how effective and impactful this day is. On April 5th last year, about 100 Ohio State students gathered at Hale Hall at 4 p.m. for a 1-mile walk without shoes on campus. Many walked in full of excitement already having been barefoot throughout the entire day, while others walked in out of curiosity.

As participants arrived, we encouraged them to dip their feet in paint to contribute to our One Day Without Shoes barefoot banner. After a quick talk on the purpose of the day, we left home base sans shoes with megaphone in hand. We led all the students 1 mile through campus while sharing the message with passersby about the risks and issues children face when without shoes. Upon our return to home base, we offered food, played a documentary about the importance of shoes, and took questions. As our event relaxed into a more casual setting, I heard engaging conversations between small groups of people on what they felt about the day, what other inequalities/injustices bother them, and how some of them can take action in their own ways to bring about change. We received a lot of positive feedback as well as great questions challenging our initiatives -- this all helped to enrich our discussion and understanding of this important event. It was a powerful day in which a large group of passionate students came together to raise awareness about an issue and to celebrate what progress has already been made. We united with purpose, with one goal.

Last year, I graduated from college and I am now in my first year teaching. On April 10th, I plan to continue advocating for children who are without shoes by educating my young students.

Through stories, visuals, and activities, my students will be able to see that, though they are only 8 or 9 years old, they, too, have the ability to make an impact on this world. This day will be another learning opportunity for them and I hope they realize that each of them can take action in helping others beyond those being bullied. Being able to share One Day Without Shoes with my students will be incredibly meaningful as they are around the same age as many children in need around the world.

How can you impact the lives of others? I encourage you to find the cause that inspires you. Whether it be advocating for children around the world without shoes or another cause, find an outlet in which you can take an active role in the social issue that matters and is relevant to you. One Day Without Shoes is just that for the hundreds of thousands around the world that feel this issue matters to them.