Walk a Mile in No Shoes

Sometimes you have to see things from a different perspective!

Before I came to Tanzania, I would picture Africa, a world so far away, as a dusty dry place where children played without shoes on their feet and without food in their stomachs. I had compiled this image from World Vision commercials and numerous campaigns with the aim of sending clothing and shoes to Africa. Fortunately, contrary to what World Vision had shown me, the Tanzanian reality I have seen is not so desolate. Granted I realize my scope of the situation in Tanzania is still extremely limited, and specific to Zanzibar, I have nevertheless changed some of the stereotypes and perceptions I came with.

To start, when I would think about children playing without shoes, I would think to myself, “how awful, their feet must hurt so much, I feel so bad for them!” but I have realized that they are perfectly fine not wearing shoes. Sure, if you grow up wearing shoes and you have to walk on rocks – it’s not going to be fun. But if you grow up playing barefoot in the dirt, your feet adapt to that environment. I played soccer with some of the kids in my neighbourhood, and they race faster over rocks and dirt barefoot than I did in shoes. The point of this story is that coming from my world, where most wear shoes, NOT having shoes seems like a terrible thing. I could only see their situation from my perspective. It’s a small example, but it can be applied to much larger situations. I must remember that my views of the world are influenced by my experiences and my perceptions, and that those perceptions can alter reality.

You really do have to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, or no shoes, before you can begin to understand where they are coming from. I feel lucky to be working in a politically stable environment, where most of the residents have access to water, shelter, and food. I have to remind myself that just as Western Canada is different from Eastern Canada, one side of Africa is vastly different from the other. I can’t paint the whole continent with one brush stroke. Each country is different, each community is different, and I need to broaden my knowledge of each place to confront the assumptions that I have created. Working with people with unique attitudes and opinions, and in elements out of my comfort zone and experience, is helping me grow and build a more colourful view of the world.

-Jean Lawson, Youth Ambassador, Tanzania 2012

Jean is roughly three weeks into her 6 week project in Zanzibar. To find out more about what our volunteers are working on in Tanzania, Check out the Tanzania section of our blog. 


One thought on “Walk a Mile in No Shoes

  1. Reblogged this on eat, drink and take chances and commented:

    As a Youth Writer for Youth Challenge International, I’ll be writing about my experiences in Tanzania and hopefully help others who are looking to volunteer abroad and gain new skills and have an incredible experience. I’ll also touch on my internship in Cape Town, South Africa as well, as that was another fantastic learning experience and I think I have a lot to say about Africa on the whole. You’ll find these written pieces on here and it’ll vary I’m sure, from articles to blog posts to photo blogs. As some you may already know, I love taking pictures so don’t be surprised if you see photo blogs.

    I’m in the process of brainstorming, trying to come up with something new and fresh, something that no one has written about before. Pulling from my personal experiences and looking at where I am now I think will help me find stories to share. It’s always interesting to reflect on past experiences. To reminisce, look through old photographs, remember small moments. To think about things you wish you’d said or done in retrospect, though you should never have regrets, just keep in mind “next time…” is the more positive approach. And honestly, anywhere you go, it’s a journey. Doesn’t matter if it’s around the world or in your own city or town. And to be able to look at things from a new perspective is key in anything you do.

    This article by Youth Ambassador Jean Lawson, currently on project in Zanzibar, caught my eye and after reading it, I just had to share it. We’ve all heard the expression “Walk a Mile in His/Her/Their Shoes”, usually meant both as a metaphorical and literal statement. But what if you don’t have any shoes, literally? What if you’ve grown up living without shoes, something which is a great source of comfort, something we love to shop for and which we put on our feet without a second thought?

    Jean talks about how she has literally experienced this, watching children who go on with their lives without shoes, from simply walking around to play soccer. She considers the statement literally and then metaphorically looking at things from a different perspective.

    If you think about a shoe, it’s safe, warm, comfortable and protects our feet from the ground, from pavement, sharp rocks, gravel. Now take that shoe and imagine being enclosed in it (I just remember a children’s book called “The Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe”, based on a nursery rhyme). It’s just like how other things in our lives keep us comfortable. Running water. Electricity. Heat. A roof over our heads. Please know that I’m not trying to send anyone on a guilt trip, it’s a fact and also something we should be aware of, and so I’m stating it as it is.

    No matter where you go, you always have to be open to seeing things from a different perspective. And I think the ability to do that is so valuable in anything you do, and especially when you’re overseas. I liked Jean’s ability to recognize her initial perception of Africa, and then being there and experiencing it and recognizing the need to look at things from a different perspective.
    Be sure to take a read, enjoy!

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