- 27 Oct 2022
Imagine having to walk barefoot in the scorching heat with nothing to protect your feet from the fiery concrete. According to WHO, that is the everyday life of 1.5 billion people in the world. Shocking, isn’t it?
I am Sia Godika, a 16-year old with the motto, donate a sole, save a soul! I was born to my engineer parents in North Carolina and was brought up in Bangalore, India where I continue to pursue my class 11th. Growing up, welfare was something that always drew me towards it, and I felt deeply for my surroundings.
When I was 13, an incident left a mark on my heart that pushed me to act on my feelings of compassion for others. There was a construction site near my house, where I noticed that the workers were working barefoot. Their feet were extremely dirty and cracked, and some were also wounded due to the dire working conditions. What broke my heart was the site of young children who were in the same situation. The feet of many were left bleeding with no attendance. This image had been at the back of my mind ever since.
Getting the image of hurting feet out of my head felt impossible. Upon research, I realized that not only were these men, women, and children exposed to wounds but also to countless diseases, allergies, and infections caused by overexposed feet. I was horrified by the statistics that showed that millions of people in my country, India, have absolutely no foot cover and on the contrary, 350 million pairs of shoes are annually discarded.
I knew I had to do something about it. I couldn’t simply ignore it. But what could a 13-year old do to eradicate a worldwide problem? Like any other kid stuck in the middle of a dilemma, I consulted my parents, who further encouraged me to research around the topic to understand how I could help . Deep research paired with support from my parents gave birth to the initiative, Sole Warriors.
The only way to help the needy with footwear is to provide them with some. That’s when, in 2019, with a mission to provide foot cover through refurbished shoes, I founded the Sole Warriors. Charity starts at home and so did the journey of Sole Warriors.
We all have shoes that have been sitting in our wardrobes for years since we have outgrown them, or we simply don’t use them. I dug my old shoes out and asked my family to do so as well. I wanted to be able to help a huge mass of people, for which I needed a wider reach, so I started encouraging people to donate through WhatsApp groups and received a hearty response.
Exposed to a larger group of people, I was sure that the initiative could do wonders. I started approaching communities who would help me connect to volunteers in different cities so that the initiative wouldn’t stay confined to a certain area. The widely connected Indian Ploggers Army were the first to reach me out and helped me collect a massive number of shoes from around Bangalore.
In our first ever distribution drive, we were able to distribute 700 shoes, and I must say, there has been no stopping after that. We started widening our reach, and volunteers in various communities would collect usable shoes of all kinds, which we would then refurbish if needed and then send them out to the needy in the best possible condition.
Going forward, many organizations joined us, and we were able to expand our initiative to other cities in India like Mumbai and Chennai. Since our inception, we have collected and distributed over 15,000 pairs from over 6,000 households and successfully provided them to where people need them the most.
It is the result of our tirelessly working volunteers that in 2021, I was honoured with the Legacy Award, established in memory of Diana, the Princess of Wales. The award is the highest honour awarded to changemakers aged from 9 to 25-years old, and being one of the 20 inspiring change makers who were awarded from across the world, I was swept off my feet!
It is because of the support of my parents, who believed in my initiative—I remember my mom always telling me to follow my heart—, the mentors who constantly guided me and even took over when school got overwhelming. It would be a different situation for us if it weren’t for our volunteers, ranging from 8 to 82-years old, who have worked in harsh conditions just to help the initiative.
The pandemic was challenging for all of us, but some of us were doing better than others. After the crisis that humanity went through in these 2 years, people became a lot more sensitive and considerate towards other humans, following which we saw a surge in the number of people who wanted to get involved with us. Since unemployment was one of the biggest effects of the pandemic, we came up with a solution. We started distributing shoes to individuals or the sole entrepreneurs with the collected shoes, who would further sell them and be able to make their ends meet.
Today, the Sole Warriors are also functional in countries like the USA and West Africa. Our goal is to reach millions who can benefit from the shoes we may have outgrown but can be worn by another pair of feet. I hope to make this a nationwide initiative. This would be driven by a network of sole warriors in all of India and around the world.
Our initiative sustains and delivers hugely simply because everyone has a common goal—helping feet. The more footwear we distribute, the more smiles we see. The sights and smiles of those we have helped motivate us to continue. No matter what happens, we know to stick to our motto: ‘Donate a Sole, Save a Soul’.
Exclusively written for Giving for Good Foundation by Bhairavi Hiremath
With words as her medium and a diary full of scribbled ideas, she is usually found looking for ways to use her writing to impact for Good. If she’s out of sight, she’s probably either reading, petting cats, jamming to retro Bollywood, or of course, writing!