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Struggle and Hope in the Batey

Life on less than $1.90 per day is defined as extreme poverty. Extreme because it deprives its victims of the most basic needs—including an adequate pair of shoes. Extreme because it stretches the limits of what a human being should bear, adding impossible complexity to even the most mundane tasks.

There are few places where this extreme is more rooted than in the bateyes of Dominican Republic. Away from the swaying palm trees and tropical nightlife of the resorts, these shanty town communities are harsh reminders of those who have been left behind. Here, Haitian sugarcane workers and locals struggle to survive. They find shelter under the cover of metal scraps and banana tree leaves remarkably supported by random sticks and planks of wood. They work the field long hours for the prospect of even one daily meal. And their children, who should be in school, roam the dirt roads mostly barefoot. Without shoes, the batey children have no protection from the harshness of their environment. They’re exposed to cuts, injuries and dangerous parasites living in the soil. Lacking access to medical care, these can lead to severe debilitation and even death.

Yet extreme poverty is also extreme because it draws out the best of the human spirit. Strength, perseverance, gratitude, empathy, generosity, ingenuity. The spirit that sustains the bateyes against all odds…the spirit that compels us to join the fight. And fight we do with the help of some extraordinary allies who understand the power of a pair of shoes: protection from disease, the prospect of an education (as shoes are required for school attendance in many countries), hope for a better life. Together we have delivered the gift of shoes in 127 countries and all 50 U.S. states—over 30 million since 2006. One pair for every dollar.

And so it was this past March in Dominican Republic.

We pinpointed the areas of greatest need with our local partner. In addition to addressing the lack of affordable housing in these communities, their work now also includes violence against women. Young girls are especially susceptible to sexual exploitation, often a horrific consequence of the circumstances and desperation of poverty. The heaviness of looking into a girl’s eyes and wondering how long they’ll remain a girl is more suffocating than words can convey.

We packed nearly 1,000 pairs of new shoes thanks to the hundreds of retailers and manufacturers that provide us a supply of high-quality product throughout the year. And had the funds needed to ship them thanks to the donations from our individual supporters. And accepted the help of mighty volunteers who helped us distribute the shoes on the ground.

They were fifteen teens (and their mentor) from the Golden State who affect change in and outside their community, ready to give of themselves mind and heart. And nine young women rescued from unimaginable abuse who, through our partner, now have access to critical life-improvement services like education and sustainable jewelry-crafting work. Two seemingly unlikely groups of newfound friends working side-by-side for one common goal: to deliver the gift of shoes. “Things are not difficult if you want them with enough strength.” A beautiful way to sum it up from a girl forced to grown up too soon.

Thanks to the donations of individuals just like you, the children of the three batey communities we visited are now safe from injury and disease. And countless others can go to school.

And so today we ask you to join the fight, helping us deliver the gift of dignity and hope laced up in a pair of shoes all over the world, including right here in the United States. Your financial support helps us reach the forsaken. $1=1 PAIR. Imagine the difference your donation can make.