During one of our annual visits to Assam, our young son, felt very distraught when he noticed rickshaw wallas and poor children without any footwear. He was saddened & surprised that there were people who could not afford some of the very basic things in life. From then on, he found it very difficult to ride rickshaws, and expressed his wish that if he had all the wealth in the world, he would make sure that the less fortunate amongst us, would, at the very least, have the basic necessities of life.
That was when he was a young child of 11 and those were utopian wishes of a young child immersed in idealism. But today, as we look back, we try to see the world through our son’s eyes, and we would like to take the first step in fulfilling this tiny, cherished dream of our son. We believe, our son taught us to look at the world with a different perspective, to be more compassionate and to try and make a difference in the lives of those less fortunate than us.
The First Step toward Fulfilling the dream
Providing shoes and footwear for the poor is not a new idea. There are a number of international organizations that already have successful projects in the US, Latin America, and in Africa. Footwear is one of the basic necessities of modern life. However, shoes or sandals are a very low priority for many of Assam's poor. Today, we realize and understand that lack of footwear can often lead to diseases and illnesses in developing countries. Further, young children may be exposed to injuries that could lead to serious complications like tetanus. Proper footwear often helps in preventing diseases that become pronounced in later years.
The Action plan
It is with in mind, we launched the "Soles For Tots, a footwear project for the children of Assam, ....one step at a time" project in Assam. This small project aims at providing footwear to young children, as a start. Towards this end, we earnestly sought the volvement of the Assamese residents in and outside Assam. The success depended on a few factors. The sincere involvement of, and contributions from civic associations, businesses, and individuals proved to be the key ingredients for the success of such operations. We launched the 1st project in early January, 2010.
We fervently appealed to the softer, benevolent side of the Assamese heart. These are our children, and we bear huge societal responsibilities. No amount is too small, and every bit helps us to purchase additional pairs.
Last year we were able to distribute 766 pairs of brand new shoes. In our personal efforts & commitment we were joined by The Assam Foundation of North America(AFNA), The Assam Society of America (ASA) Foundation (both Assamese organizations in North America), some of our colleagues in the US, and our friends from Assam.
This year too, we hope to launch a similar program in the Jorhat area, and are hopeful of the full support of the organizations and individuals who joined our efforts last year.
We hope that organizations like Lions Club, Rotary Club, as well as business houses, and certainly individuals can also join us in our efforts. We are very interested in some local interest and contributions. While organizations can help with institutional help, individuals too can contribute by donating one pair of brand new shoes (covered, sports wear shoes or running shoes, keds). Our hope is that many individuals take active part in this.
Last year, the bulk of the distribution took place at Parijat Academy. The teachers, the administrators and a few friends from Guwahati, and here helped us in the distribution. Many of the young children came as from places like Garbhanga Many of the young children walked for hours early in the morning, and for many of them these were the first pair of footwear they ever got. In addition to children, we were also able to buy sandals for some adults who work at Atma Nirbhar - Ek Challenge, as well as some rickshaw/thela wallas we happened to come across.
This year, we are hoping to launch and distribute shoes from 'Pragyalaya' at Titabor, near Jorhat, possibly around the end of the year or in early January.
While it is always heart rendering to see so many children not being able to afford any footwear, the most precious gifts were the smiles on their innocent faces. We know, this is but a very tiny step, but we are glad we took it. The experience taught us many life lessons.
The link below has some photographs from the last 'Soles for Tots' distribution.
Alpana & Ram Sarangapani
Houston, Texas, USA