There is an old comedy monologue by the late Alan Sherman where he explains why he got fat: As a boy, his mother reminded him that people were starving in Europe, so he needed to eat everything on his plate.

So I would clean the plate, four, five, six times a day.
Because somehow I felt that that would keep the children from starving
in Europe.
But I was wrong. They kept starving. And I got fat.
So I would like to say to every one of you who is either skinny
or in some other way normal–
When you walk out on the street, and you see a fat person,
Do not scoff at that fat person. Oh no!
Take off your hat. Hold it over your heart.
Lift your chin up high. And in a proud, happy voice say to him,
“Hail to thee, fat person!
You kept us out of war!”

So today I am arguing with my American grandchildren the absurdity of “A Day Without Shoes” program, brought to you by a California shoe company. Apparently, the company sponsoring the promotion will give away a pair of shoes for every shoe you buy from them, and they are encouraging you to go a day without shoes so you can experience what it is like to live without wearing shoes.

Really? A middle class kid with tender feet going shoeless in the snows of March or walking on concrete will understand what it feels like when kids with thick skin on their feet go shoeless walking on dirt roads?

And going shoeless will help them, right? Just like Sherman’s eating helped the starving kids in Europe.

Reality check please..

One: The coporate headquarters for this shoe company is in Santa Monica California (where overhead expenses are a bit higher than, say, if they had their corporate offices in Tulsa or Sioux Falls).

But the shoes are made in Argentina or China. Yes, China. Where wages are low so the companies can make a larger profit on them than if they put a factory in Johnson City New York or other former shoe making centers of the US where people no longer make shoes.

Sounds like the company has a good deal to increase their profit by making people feel good about wearing their overpriced shoes.

Two: So how much profit can be made on their shoes? Well, according to this website, a cheap canvas woman’s shoe cost $48 dollars. If I check a local website that sells everything, you can get them for 2400-3000 pesos, which is 48 to 60 dollars. But you can also buy a “genuine” pair for anywhere from 360 pesos ($7) to 1200 pesos ($24). What’s going on here? The Chinese counterfeits copy the design and sell them a lot cheaper.

So if you can buy a similar shoe for ten dollars, by buying them for 48 dollars, it seems to me that even with giving away a “free pair” for every pair sold, they are still overpriced.

Three: The shoes are not some exotic third world design. They are Espadrilles, a shoe that’s been around for a couple hundred years and originated in Catalonia, not Argentina. Of course, the original had fiber bottoms, not the cheaper “rubber” that is used by Tom’s shoes and that he found in Argentina, but that’s probably because it’s cheaper.

Four: If you want to give away shoes, fine. But giving children cheap shoes (made in China) actually undermines the local shoe factories.

I know about this, because our town here in the Philippines makes sandals. Ironically, the locals wear imported “flipflops” that are imported from China. Why? Because wages are higher here in the Philippines, so we can’t compete with low end sandals. Instead, we specialize in middle priced hand made sandals. Chinese sandals at the Palenke: 35 pesos (70 cents). Locally made sandals: 100 pesos (2 dollars).  Chinese made sandals at the local mall: 10 dollars, well made sandals from Korea at the mall, 20 dollars. In Manila, the mall prices are the same as in the US.

I’m not sure of the price for shoes, but the last canvas slip on with a rubber sole that I bought with the name of an American company was on sale in Manila for 500 pesos (ten dollars). When they wore out, I bought a similar pair at our local Palenke/open air market that has independent vendors. They cost or 200 pesos (4 dollars). Both were made in China.

Four: In warm countries, people wear sandals, not shoes. But there is a need for shoes. Why? Hookworm.

In countries without toilets, the hookworm ends up in the soil, and burrows into your feet. It then migrates to your intestines where it suck your blood. Luckily, the worms are tiny, but some kids end up with thousand of them all sucking away. Next thing you know, you have a two year old with a Hemoglobin of 3 (normal 12) needing an emergency blood transfusion.

But another answer is adequate sanitation: Running water, indoor toilets or communal toilets that are kept clean are what is needed.

Five: Sandals can be easily made by the local people. Our town makes hand made sandals for the middle class. When I worked in Africa, folks made them from used car tires.

Instead of “giving” a pair of shoes made in China for each shoe bought,  why not invest in a local shoe company? You know, like the proverb: “give a man a fish he eats for one day, give a man a fishing pole and he feeds his family for a year”.

Six: how many of the shoes being given away “for free” are actually being resold for profit?

We ran into this problem when our nuns started receiving donated clothing from Europe. A couple people went into the “used clothing” business by begging for free clothing, and then selling it in the nearby town. To discourage this, we asked for the poor to send a family member to do one days’ work to get clothing as pay. Usually in the extended family, someone would volunteer, and everyone, from the local merchants to the poor mother, was happy.

Here in the Philippines, one finds used clothing for sale at the Palenke. (Open air market where small vendors sell their wares).

I don’t know if it was donated for charity or just overstocks, but this used clothing has a price lower than “new”  but poor quality clothing (usually imported from China). Example: used child’s teeshirt 25 pesos, new one 50 pesos. Most of the poor can afford the low price, and the vendor supports his or her family by selling it.

Indeed, I suspect that the overhead for getting the teeshirts etc. to the poor by using local entrepreneurs is a lot lower than a high priced charity that pays the foreigners a five figure salary to give away “free” teeshirts (or shoes).

Seven: Why does one think that having rich yuppies go “shoeless” in March makes them understand how it is to be shoeless?

Those village kids without shoes often have hardened callused feet, and walk on soft grass or dirt, not on concrete or asphalt with the soft feet of American yuppies.

Which brings me back to Alan Sherman.

Yes be sympathetic to the poor, and give to charities that actually have experience in helping the poor. Often churches and church related charities do so the most efficiently, since the workers’ salary is lower and less tends to be siphoned off to corruption.

But don’t think because you did a day “without shoes” you are helping these folks.

You get sore feet, and they still lack shoes.

I have a better idea:

Instead of going without shoes and then buying a $48 dollar shoe so that you can feel good about having a poor kid get a free pair of shoes, why not instead buy a 10 dollar canvas flat shoe from Walmart and donate the difference to Oxfam.

They’ll put it to good use, and you won’t need a tetanus shot because you walked on discarded nail with your bare feet.

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Nancy Reyes is a retired physician who lives in the Philippines. She has worked as a doctor in two African countries when she was a lot younger.

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