Teenager Jagriti Khurkute is used to wearing hand-me-down clothes and slippers belonging to her elder sister. The only problem is that once the slippers break, as they often do, her parents are not able to buy another pair for a long time. Khurkute, 16, goes to Government Primary Ashram School, Hiradpada, a residential school aided partly by the Maharashtra government in Thane district’s Jawhar region. Being in a residential school, her need for a shoe is superseded by that of her sister, who has to walk 8km to college every day.
Khurkute was told last month that she, along with her classmates, would be given new slippers to wear. “The teacher called us one by one, took down our foot measurements and noted it on a page. Then, (on 23 August) we were given these chappals and now I wear mine everywhere,” says Khurkute.
Khurkute’s prized slippers are simple. The base is actually the sole of a used running shoe, and the straps are refurbished canvas from the same running shoe. The slippers were given to the school children through Greensole India, a Mumbai-based social venture started by athletes Shriyans Bhandari and Ramesh Dhami in 2013.
The parents of the Class X student are poor farmers, whose annual income is less than Rs25,000. For such families it is especially difficult to purchase new shoes, not when there are loans to be paid off, son’s education to be taken care of along with the regular household expenditure. Though the government’s Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan promises free uniforms for children in Classes I-VIII, and the ashram school makes sure all the students have the required stationery, books, daily meals, etc., shoes have never been given much of a thought.
“Neither the government nor any groups have given much thought to the necessity of school shoes along with the uniforms and books provided to children. That said, the children’s excitement on owning new shoes can be put to good use by motivating them further to move around—not necessarily just to come to school,” says Usha Rane, director (content and training) of Pratham Education Foundation, a non-governmental organization working in the field of children’s education.
“Jagriti is lucky because she lives in the school hostel. Many other students walk through the jungles and hilly terrain to come to school and go back home, often 4-5km each way. They play without shoes and often get bruises or get a thorn stuck on their foot,” says Medage Rohidas, headmaster of the Government Primary Ashram School, Hiradpada. According to a report by the World Health Organization (WHO) published in 2013, around 1.5 billion people worldwide live with diseases that could have been prevented by the use of footwear.
A WHO fact sheet from March 2016 says that soil-transmitted helminth infections are caused by different species of parasitic worms. Among these, hookworm eggs which hatch in the soil, release larvae that mature into a form that can penetrate the skin. People become infected with hookworm primarily by walking barefoot on contaminated soil.
Aside from being given shoes, children at the ashram school were told about the health risks of walking barefoot. Khurkute now wears her slippers in school, during kho-kho or kabaddi games and especially when she goes home. “At home, I work with my parents in the field, helping them in the farm. It is very comfortable to have my chappals with me when I work because the field is usually wet,” she says.
Having gone through four shoes a year themselves, Greensole India co-founders Bhandari and Dhami wanted to find a way to decrease the pressure on the environment. They thought of a design, got a patent and displayed their shoes at an exhibition in Ahmedabad. Orders started pouring in, as did donations in the form of old shoes.
The group placed shoe donation boxes in colleges, housing societies and parks, and reached out to running groups in Mumbai. The initial demand and encouragement helped them set up a manufacturing unit in Kurla, Mumbai. Greensole India now recycles discarded shoes into comfortable footwear for the underprivileged.
Having started with the help of family members, friends and individual donations, it now has several corporates partners including hospitality brand Vivanta by Taj, fitness services provider GOQii and home loan provider Indiabulls Housing Finance, who give it CSR (corporate social responsibility) support.
As a self-supporting social venture, Greensole India has received funds of Rs 20lakh so far and has started selling the recycled footwear online, priced between Rs600 and Rs1,500 apiece. With the money earned from the sale, it plans to run on-site surveys to find schools where students may require shoes (especially if the average income of families in that area is below a certain level, or if the area surrounding the school is rocky), create more comfortable designs and to finally recycle more footwear for donations.
Greensole India depends both on donations from individuals and corporates, as well as its own retail model.
“My friends from the village often ask me where I got the shoes because they can see how these shoes have made me so comfortable. I hope my friends get shoes too and don’t have to walk barefoot any more,” says Khurkute.
What a donation can do
Greensole India accepts donations in cash and kind. You can donate a shoe, each part is recycled and made into a slipper which is then given to a less-privileged child. You can further pitch in by buying the refurbished footwear on www.instamojo.com/greensole.
A donation of Rs199 can help in recycling a shoe.
This article first appeared in Mint newspaper in India. It can be accessed here.