Beatles songs, beating drums and bare feet – it was a scene that could have been lifted from any college campus in the early ‘60s.
Yet, the barefooted, singing parade that left from the Marshall Student Center (MSC) on Tuesday evening wasn’t meant to protest a war or attract the attention of a politician. Rather, the marchers simply wanted to raise awareness for poverty-stricken children around the world who can’t afford shoes.
The campus rally was part of the worldwide “TOMS One Day Without Shoes” event that required participants to walk barefoot for one day to catch the attention of passersby.
According to a TOMS press release, the company is a California-based organization that donates one pair of shoes to non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in more than 23 countries for each pair of shoes purchased by their customers. The donated shoes are given to children in developing countries, as the company believes that shoes can better a child’s health and well-being.
“We have people everywhere getting involved,” said Allison Dominguez, TOMS public relations manager. “(The campaign) has ultimately become a global movement.”
Amanda Boudreau, a senior majoring in anthropology, started a USF TOMS club on campus last semester to raise awareness about the many benefits that one pair of shoes could provide a child.
When she and the club’s event coordinator, Stephanie Martell, a junior majoring in environmental science, learned the date of TOMS fourth annual One Day Without Shoes event, they planned to organize a movement at USF.
“It was only right,” Boudreau said. “There are other people on campus outside of the club that I’ve seen today taking part in this.”
Yet, the scope of USF’s barefoot activism went far beyond the Tampa campus.
Kelly Mulholland, a sophomore majoring in molecular biology, is spending the semester at Stockton College in Pomona, N.J. When she saw a Facebook event for USF’s organized event, she said she felt the urge to participate.
“I think it’s (important to raise awareness) about the conditions of how other people have to live,” she said. “We’ve only done (this) for one day, and it’s uncomfortable for us, but (some children) do it every day. It’s definitely eye-opening and helps people see the conditions that the majority of people of our world live in.”
Jenni Warren, a senior majoring in communications, is a veteran One Day Without Shoes participant. Though the event wasn’t organized on campus last year, Warren still went barefoot on campus, an experience she said left her feet blistered and scraped for a week.
This year, she wore shoes for the duration of her bus ride, as she did not want to go barefoot while using public transportation – something she said was too “gross,” even for the cause.
Diane Zanto, senior director for Student Health Services (SHS), said aside from the potential discomfort, walking barefoot could also pose a threat to students’ health.
“There can be health risks to going barefoot in all weather conditions,” she said. “Footwear provides protection from cuts, abrasions and from objects on the ground, as well as from possible parasites, warts and fungal infection, say nothing about the increased possibility of slipping and falling with bare feet versus shoes.”
Zanto said individuals participating in such demonstrations should first ensure that their own health is not jeopardized.
“Persons changing their behavior should take the responsibility to make themselves aware of the health risks inherent in any behavior change, regardless if it is ‘for a cause’ or because of peer pressure or personal preference,” she said.
Martell said that even though her boyfriend questioned why she planned to go without shoes, the chance to raise awareness was enough to keep her motivated.
“People will see and wonder (what we’re doing), and maybe they’ll ask or they’ll go home and look it up online,” she said. “Raising awareness is what this is about.”
Warren said raising awareness requires efforts by many people.
“You can try and change the world yourself, but you’re going to need help,” she said.