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Beautiful Feet

“Thank you, but I cannot keep them.” Janvier gazed down dejectedly at the new sandals we had just given him. Reluctantly, the child handed them back.

On Burundian hills, shoes are a luxury. When a generous donor financed the purchase of a pair of new sandals for every child at Karubabi Harvest School, we were all grateful, knowing that in this country shoes are far more than a fashion accessory. First and foremost, shoes offer protection, protection for feet that trudge across harsh terrain each and every day. Dusty, sore, calloused feet. Beautiful feet.]\It was an exciting day when we were able to hand these sandals out to each of the students, and the story would have been good if it had ended like that! Why was Janvier rejecting this gift? 

“They will only get stolen,” he told us. As the youngest in his family, Janvier was least equipped to defend himself. His brothers would simply take the sandals and sell them, he told us, for few ounces of beer. Dismayed, I took the sandals back, looking at his feet. As with so many who live barefoot on these hills, his feet were infected by jiggers, tiny bugs that left their eggs under the nails and skin. This little boy had his feet full of them, and his hands also. His nails were not protecting him. Shoes were not protecting him. His brothers were not protecting him. Although I felt shocked and distressed, I saw that my Burundian colleagues were neither surprised nor distraught by his situation. This was their reality. 

Quickly the teachers at the school organized themselves into teams to begin to remove the hundreds of jiggers from Janvier’s feet, one by one. They disinfected his sores and poured oil on the open wounds. Janvier, I saw, was not the only boy who needed this treatment, and my colleagues contributed to pay for those children who would not be able to walk back home, so that they could stay at the clinic overnight. Then they fed the children, as they do every day. They went, as they often do, to visit the families and better understand their circumstances; these teachers, who are so much more than teachers, who stand and walk for hours on feet that get dusty and calloused and sore, even with shoes on. Beautiful feet. 

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