What does it feel like to walk a day without shoes?
Growing up on the dusty streets of Nairobi, it was not uncommon to look around and see some people walking all day without shoes. As you moved your way through the city, you might see the warn and calloused feet of young boys and girls begging for food and money on the streets. When you got closer to the slums, the feet became muddy and filthy, covered in a sort of ever-lasting mud that never went away. This is the plight of people here in the country I once called home.
Opportunities didn’t come easy for the poor in this slum known as Kibera. Education was sparse. AIDS was rampant. Disease and malnutrition took over.
And then every now and then, you’d see a glimmer of hope.
Maybe something as simple as shoe which could change peoples’ lives.
That’s the concept behind the shoes, SWAHEELIES, a not-for-profit company that sells shoes that give back to the people of Kenya. Founded by my friend and former Braeburn High School classmate, Chania Lackey, a corporate lawyer who grew up in Nairobi. Chania was always interested in fashion, business, and the beautiful, diverse culture Kenya has to offer. But she didn’t just want to start a shoe company, she wanted to start a revolution.
So Chania founded SWAHEELIES, a shoe that gives back.
This social enterprise empowers Kenyan artisans and enables them to grow, as the business grows. She embarked on this mission by identifying Kenyan artisans who were gifted in shoe making.
“As fate would have it,” she says. “We found the detailed workmanship and skills needed for our products from artisans who were most in need of employment, in Kibera…Swaheelies ensure that our artisans receive above market rate payment for their services and goods. For Swaheelies, it would not be the product that we envisioned, nor would we want this company to grow, unless our artisans are growing as well!”
Chania attended a good private school in Nairobi and she knew how much her education impacted her life. She wanted to make sure her company was making a real change in the lives of those who didn’t have the resources she had growing up. That is when she had the idea of giving a portion of the proceeds of Swaheelies to educating children in Kenya.
” Swaheelies has committed that with every shoe that is sold, we will contribute to support the education for a child’s annual school fees,” she says. “By year end in 2015, our target is to have sold 2,000 pairs of shoes, and with that educate 125 children for the whole academic year. Each year we hope to double our sponsorship and still maintain sponsorship for the children who are already enrolled in the sponsorship.”
These really are a shoe with a purpose.
And now, maybe those walking without shoes might have a chance. Maybe they might have the opportunity to follow their dreams…one step at a time.
About the Author
Suki Eleuterio is a blogger, spiritualist, yoga enthusiast and poet living in South Florida. She is the founder of Found My Light, and the creative mind behind Sookton’s Space. She enjoys writing and discussing spirituality, holistic health, and vegetarianism. Growing up in Kenya with parents from different religious and cultural backgrounds, Suki has spent time finding her own path. You can follow her musings on Twitter and Instagram.