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A New Invention: Shoes that Grow with a Child


Many children living in poverty around the world cannot afford new shoes as they grow. (2013 FILE PHOTO)

Many children living in poverty around the world cannot afford new shoes as they grow. (2013 FILE PHOTO)

From VOA Learning English, this is the Health & Lifestyle report.

Children grow quickly, especially their feet.

But many families cannot buy new shoes each time a child needs them. As a result, about 300 million children around the world go barefoot. Those children risk picking up diseases and parasites from the soil.

An American man may have a solution for those barefoot kids – a shoe that grows with the child.

VOA correspondent June Soh traveled to Idaho to interview Kenton Lee. We bring that story to our Learning English audience.

Kenton Lee is the creator of The Shoe That Grows. He explains how the shoe works and how it is able to last so long.

"It grows in three places: the front; it can also grow on the side with Velcro; and on the back with our buckle. It can last up to five years. The bottom is compressed rubber like tire rubber. The top is just high-quality leather."

The shoe comes in two sizes: small that fits children aged 4 to 9 and large for children aged 9 to 14.

Lee says he got the idea for the shoe while working as a volunteer in an orphanage in Kenya.

"… and there was a little girl in a white dress walking next to me. And I just remember looking down and seeing how small her shoes were. They were just way too small for her feet. They were so small, she had to cut open the front of her shoes to let her toes stick out. And I just remember thinking, wouldn't it be nice if there were a pair of shoes that could grow with her feet."

However, Lee says it was not easy to turn his idea into a reality.

"I kept writing down I should do this because of this or because of that. All these reasons why it really was important for me to try to make the shoes that could grow and try to help."

Finally, in 2009 Lee founded a non-profit organization called Because International. In the office of Because International, Lee keeps a pair of his own shoes to help him remember his promise.

"I told myself I would not get new shoes until the idea was done. So, those are the shoes that I wore for a little over five years. But once we finally made The Shoe That Grows happen, then I finally got some new shoes."

Because International works with several partner organizations. Together, they have sent more than 50,000 pairs of shoes to 70 countries.

"The majority of our shoes are going to East Africa – so, Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia. And then also a lot of our shoes go to Haiti, Nicaragua, some of the Central American countries as well."

Lee says many of these areas do not have good sanitation. As a result, illness spreads easily.

A technician removes a guinea worm from a child's foot at health center in Ghana, 2007.

A technician removes a guinea worm from a child's foot at health center in Ghana, 2007.

Children pick up diseases and parasites through the soles of their bare feet and fall sick.

"It’s really heartbreaking. They stay sick for a long time. They’re not able to afford the medical care. So, a lot of them just really fall behind. They don't go to school. And they don't learn and grow as a child should."

A pair of shoes, he says, gives more than protection. It gives a child self-worth and more chances to succeed.

"Because it's a small thing that really does make a big difference to keep them healthy and happy and having more chances to succeed."

Kenton Lee adds that his goal is to help get The Shoe That Grows to as many children as he can around the world.

For the Health & Lifestyle report, I’m Anna Matteo.

June Soh wrote this story for VOA News. Anna Matteo adapted it for Learning English. Kelly Jean Kelly edited it.

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Words in This Story

Velcro trademark used for a nylon fabric that can be fastened to itself

buckle n. a fastening for two loose ends that is attached to one and holds the other by a catch

compressed adj. pressed together : reduced in size or volume (as by pressure)

rubber n. an elastic substance that is obtained by coagulating the milky juice of any of various tropical plants, is essentially a polymer of isoprene, and is prepared as sheets and then dried

high-quality adj. very good, well-made, etc.

leather n. animal skin that is chemically treated to preserve it and that is used in making clothes, shoes, furniture, etc.

volunteer n. a person who does work without getting paid to do it

orphanage n. a place where children whose parents have died can live and be cared for : a home for orphans

sanitation n. the process of keeping places free from dirt, infection, disease, etc., by removing waste, trash and garbage, by cleaning streets, etc.

heartbreaking adj. causing great sadness, disappointment, etc.

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