Over the years sponsors and other supporters have generously bought pairs of shoes for the Ugandan children to help to make their lives a little easier. The footwear is certainly valuable in allowing the boys and girls to get along the village paths and around the school much more comfortably. They also give the youngsters enhanced self-esteem; they can feel smart; they give them something to be proud of.
That in itself would make it a worthwhile gift even if it were the only benefit; but there is a far more important advantage for those wearing shoes.
Jiggers is a perennial risk for people who have to go barefoot. The cause is a tiny sand flea which burrows into the skin causing inflammatory and painful itching. The most common point of entry for this parasite is of course through the soles of the feet. Once inside the body (it can infect animals as well as humans), it grows by sucking blood and it breeds at the same time. The danger in the dry season is intensified as dust is an ideal environment for the flea’s survival.
The implications can be nasty. Because it is a painful condition which makes walking difficult, children may be unable to attend school; even if they get there, concentration on work is impaired leading to poor academic performance.
At its worst, it can lead to the deformation of feet and toes. This may be a relatively rare thing, but with a heavy infestation and the flea left within the skin the likelihood of complications are greatly increased, particularly if conditions are not particularly hygienic.
The earth flooring in the classrooms at Bulumbu put the barefoot children there at high risk which is why, at the end of 2013, we paid for it to be concreted to lessen the possibility of infection. The floors can now be more easily swept, using the simple brooms that the children themselves help to make. Unfortunately it does not completely eliminate the problem for bare-footed youngsters.
Those people who provide shoes for the children are keen to help them, but their gifts do more good than they realise.