We all know the old saying that we shouldn’t judge anyone until we’ve walked a mile in their shoes? Well, this week, more than 40 people in Princeton took our own shoes off to walk a mile in someone else’s situation.

The Chuck Mathena Center joined forces with TOMS shoes and the Take the Walk Foundation to host One Day Without Shoes Tuesday at the local performing arts center.

The idea behind the campaign is to help people in developed nations get a glimpse into the life of children born in Third World countries by a stroke of fate similar to the one that put us in America.

It’s designed to let us feel just a touch of the pain children like Maria experience everyday.

Profiled at www.onedaywithout shoes.com, Maria is a girl growing up in Guatemala,  where muddy, mountainous terrain make farming and transportation difficult — especially if walking is a primary mode of transportation.

At 10 years old, Maria had never owned a pair of shoes, because the financial burden was too great for her family to bear. As a result, her bare feet were susceptible every day to infection, intestinal worms and illnesses associated with cold weather and exposed skin.

Thanks to TOMS shoes and programs like One Day Without Shoes, Maria doesn’t have to go barefoot anymore. As a result, she has a better chance of staying well, learning in school and helping her family survive the strains of their harsh realities.

Although I joined in the One Day Without Shoes effort Tuesday, even the one mile I trekked in my trouser socks was nothing compared to what children like Maria endure every day.

It was still enough to convince me that there’s a reason for shoes beyond style.

I’ve never been opposed to going barefoot. After a cold, wet, slippery winter, I’m rather looking forward to sinking my toes into the lush, green grass of a mountain summer day or the warm, gritty oasis of a beach.

But, going without shoes a few hours on vacation is something completely different from being forced to walk miles barefoot for clean water or medical attention, over rough roads and rocky terrain, while sharing the same paths as the animals who plod the path before.

Tuesday, I set out in a bid to walk the mile like I would on a track. I wasn’t as brave as some participants before me, who decided the 10 laps inside the Mathena Center were too cushy and opted for the asphalt parking lot outside, with sleet flying.

Completely comfortable with the knowledge that I was taking the wimpy way out, I began the warm and dry walk inside the CMC.

The first few laps weren’t bad. There was even an intriguing sensation, as the route changed from cool, slick tile to soft, cushiony carpet and back to tile before completing a single lap.

About halfway into the 10-lap journey, however, I began to wish that I had a layer of slip-resistant rubber between the soles of my feet and the lovely, but slippery, decorative tile in CMC’s grand hall.

Still, I counted a few blessings, concluded I was fortunate and forged on.

By lap seven or eight, the grouted gaps between the floor tiles began to feel sharp and a little uncomfortable against my then-tender feet, and I started looking forward to the end of the walk.

I was still blessed, but my mood was descending toward a bit whiny.

By the time I finished lap 10, I was glad to be done. In reality, I wasn’t hurting, but the beginnings of raw, somewhat blistery feelings on my toes and heels reminded me how much I liked the black ballet flats I’d worn that morning, and how grateful I was for them — even though they could have used a layer of polish.

As I put the aforementioned flats back on and headed for home, I was happy that the 15 minutes I’d given would help a child somewhere experience a smoother walk to school, town, home and many other places in between.

For each person who walked a mile with no shoes, TOMS shoes and Take the Walk donated $1 to furnish shoes for children like Maria. Every day, TOMS sends one pair of shoes to the Third World for every pair purchased elsewhere.

Realistically, I know a single dollar and a few minutes of small discomfort are tiny contributions to help legions of children facing barefoot journeys and huge hurdles. But, they offer at least a small step toward big solutions.

Thanks to the CMC, TOMS and Take the Walk we took more than 40 steps Tuesday, as we attempted to walk a mile in someone else’s path, without our own shoes.

Tammie Toler is Princeton Times editor. Contact her at ttoler@ptonline.net.

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