When is a shoe not just a shoe?

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Once back in Hyderabad, Jude, Katie and I embarked on a whirlwind research project for Hand of Hope India, partners with TOMS One for One giving program. Hand of Hope distributed  many pairs of shoes over the last year, which is amazing considering a year ago today the shoes weren’t even on Indian soil. 2013 will bring replacements for the shoes already distributed (the average life-span of the shoes seems to be approximately 6 months); All this is to be done with the same number of staff.

Over the course of the past year, the team has learned much about the ins and outs of managing the giving program and the unforeseen problems in bringing shoes to people, many of whom have never owned footwear apart from sandals. For our research project, we designed our study to understand what motivates children to wear their shoes as initial feedback has suggested that many are not wearing them, or are not wearing them regularly as intended. Additionally, Hand of Hope is very interested in taking the interaction beyond the giving of shoes to help educate recipients about health and hygiene, so we designed our survey to look for these opportunities as well.

We visited 5 government schools over the course of 3 days (as well as an unexpected side trip to an orphanage) and conducted individual interviews with 32 children. While I’ve had some exposure to poverty in the past, this experience took me far beyond what I’ve ever experienced. As a very wise person recently shared with us, it’s very difficult to conduct this kind of research and separate the intellectual experience from the emotional response. Yet again, I’ve gained a deeper respect for the work that my wife, the Hand of Hope staff and countless others that tackle social problems engage in on a daily basis. Many of our interviews were incredibly heart-breaking.

A quick side note on my ongoing theme of perceptual lenses; the same wise person from the previous paragraph reminded us of the perspective we bring to our experiences and how those can get in the way of fully experiencing another person or culture; the cautionary note is to treat things as neither good nor bad. During our visits this week and last week in Bhimavaram, I encountered many gender dynamics that I found troubling given the default tint of my lenses. Since then, I’ve been trying to defer judgment and seek to experience and understand what lies underneath these dynamics. While I’ve still got some work to do, by trying to stay open, I’ve been able to see more complexity and nuance in these dynamics that better inform the context of why they exist in the first place.

Back to the project! While the interviews were emotional, they were also highly informative and provided a lot of good data that we hope will provide value to the Hands of Hope TOMS staff.[1] We have additional work left to do for our final report, presentation and deliverable, so I hope our team can use our experiences in the field as a source of inspiration and energy to give the project our very best.

A special thanks goes out to Krishna Reddy Chittedi for his expert assistance in the field and generosity with his time!

-Mike

[1] On a lighter note, apparently the dog can eat your shoes in addition to your homework.

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