How shoes that grow could help change the lives of children in poverty

Inspired by a trip to an orphanage in Nairobi, Kenya, Kenton Lee was inspired to create a pair of shoes that would fit kids for as many as five years.

Darrin Zammit Lupi/REUTERS
Children shelter from the sun under a disused market stall in the Kibera slum of Kenya's capital Nairobi February 26, 2015.

Every parent has experienced the frustration of having their kids growing out of clothes and shoes that fit just months before. This problem is particularly acute in impoverished countries where many cannot afford new shoes when their current pair starts feeling tight.

However, Kenton Lee of Because International, a charity organization that works to improve the lives of people in impoverished countries around the world, had a solution – a shoe that grows with the foot.

“We believe in practical compassion. We believe in creating innovative products that can help people living in extreme poverty around the world, helping them in really simple, practical ways,” Lee said in a promotional video.

This idea inspired The Shoe That Grows, a sandal that is designed to last a child five years. The shoes come in small and large so that with just two pairs, children can have shoes on their feet from age 5 to 14 years old.

“This means that anytime a child is in school – they will always have a pair of shoes that fit. And they can be more healthy, happy, and ready for the future,” according to the group’s website.

The design for the shoe, which started out much more complex in the prototype state, is actually very simple. Four sets of snaps, two on each side, allow for adjustment of the width, while another snap at the toe can change the length. The soul is made from compressed rubber while the straps are all leather. The show can also be tightened or loosened around the ankle with a buckle, like many sandals.

Lee came up with the idea for The Shoe That Grows while visiting the Motherly Care Children’s Home in Nairobi, Kenya, in 2007. The facility housed 140 HIV/AIDS orphans and Lee noticed that many did not have shoes that fit, or any shoes at all. Not only is wearing improperly fitting shoes bad for the feet, but not wearing shoes, particularly in areas with poor sanitation, can be a health risk for children.

"I remember one day, I'll never forget it, I was walking down the road with a group of kids from the orphanage where I was staying," Lee said. "Next to me there was a girl in a while dress and her shoes were so small, and as I looked around I noticed so many of the other kids around had shoes that were just way too small, and it just got me asking questions. Finally all these questions lead to an idea ... and that idea has become a reality."

Because International has been distributing the shoes since the summer of 2013 through organizations that are already in contact with needy children. Currently, the organization is raising money to order another shipment of 5,000 shoes to be sent around the world.

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