Catamounts walk barefoot to raise awareness

Students have made a mural by sticking their feet in paint and writing about what Samaritan's Feet means to them, Oct. 24, 2016. Photo by Austin McDowell

Students have made a mural by sticking their feet in paint and writing about what Samaritan’s Feet means to them, Oct. 24, 2016. Photo by Austin McDowell

Western Carolina students took off their shoes and walked for the poor of the world.

The Catamount Walkabout, sponsored by Samaritan’s Feet and the Center for Service Learning, allowed students to participate and gain an understanding of what impoverished people go through each day.

The annual event was held on Monday, Oct. 24, in the Ramsey Center Concourse and attracted over 200 students from multiple campus organizations. Participants walked barefooted and were made aware of the dangers of foot-borne illnesses.

“Over 1.6 billion people walk without shoes,” said Josh Vance, a Western Carolina student who is volunteering for the second year for Samaritan’s Feet. “Seeing the rise in attendance from last years makes differences in the lives of people everywhere.”

Vance said that the walkabout nearly doubled its attendance from last year’s event, adding that the convenient location in the Ramsey Center and more attention on campus helped to attract more students.

According to Samaritan’s Feet’s website, the organization operates in over 77 countries, including the United States, and its purpose is to “shoe the shoeless,” and raise awareness of the global risk of walking barefoot. Based in Charlotte with over half its leadership in North Carolina, Samaritan’s Feet has sponsored its second walkabout on Western Carolina’s campus. As students walked they learned of illnesses, diseases and parasitic infections that people who walk without shoes are constantly at risk of being exposed to.

“We work with Samaritan’s Feet to see students get involved and apply lessons from class that help with real-world implications,” said Lane Perry, director of the Center for Service Learning and a leadership professor at WCU. 

WCU students participated for various reasons. Veronica Shaver, a junior who was walking for Alpha Gamma Delta, and first-year participant in the walkabout, gained some newfound knowledge during the course of the event.

“This is for a good cause, and I feel like we are combating a big problem that not a lot of people know about,” said Shaver.

“I think we are promoting a great organization and we are all hoping to gain better cultural perspective,” said Rachel Bonnell, a volunteer for the event. Bonnell is a first-year participant for the walkabout.

Samaritan’s Feet assists the needy in several countries worldwide, including Mexico, Haiti, India and many African nations. The organization has donated over six million pairs of shoes in 77 countries in the world and 325 United States cities.

“Having a mutual and beneficial partnership with Western Carolina, who are able to give and get, is helpful,” said Perry. “Seeing the actual real-world value, paying civic duty forward… when you get to do both everyday, it is a dream job, really.”