From the January 2016 issue of The Rotarian
In 2008, Kenton Lee was a new college graduate volunteering at an orphanage in Nairobi, Kenya, when he noticed how many children were barefoot or wearing shoes that were too small and had been cut open to let their toes stick out. He remembers thinking, “Wouldn’t it be great if there were a shoe that could adjust and expand so that kids always had a pair of shoes that fit?”
Six years later, that idea led to “The Shoe That Grows.” Since 2014, charity groups have distributed 8,000 pairs of the sturdy leather and rubber sandals that can be adjusted to fit five foot sizes to children across Africa, Asia, and South America.
“I didn’t think shoes were that important until I saw how people live in places where there’s not adequate sanitation or hygiene,” says Lee, a member of the Rotary Club of Nampa, Idaho. “Over 2 billion people have some kind of a soil-transmitted disease – hookworm is common – that enters the body through the feet. So something as simple as a pair of shoes can help kids stay healthier and stay in school.”
Lee says he felt enormously supported by his fellow Rotarians early on when he was feeling discouraged. After he shared his idea at a weekly meeting, “everybody loved it, and my club president got up and said, ‘We believe in you and this idea so much that we’re going to give you a donation today,’ ” he remembers. “If they would have responded differently, I don’t know if we would be here today. I got so much confidence from that.”