NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Could the path to better health for millions of kids around the world be as simple as a new pair of shoes?

The numbers are stunning – 300 million people in Africa are shoeless. Worse yet, one and a half billion people around the world are infected with parasites that entered through their feet and could have been prevented with proper shoes.

Now, there’s an amazingly simple solution involving shoes with special disease-fighting properties built right in.

The images from overseas are something we’ve seen a thousand times before – so often that we’ve almost forgotten what they represent. Children in developing countries living their lives barefoot and suffering because of a lack of shoes.

“Parasites, bacteria get into their blood through their feet,” said Manny Ohonme from Samaritan’s Feet. “They attack their feet and attack their nervous system.”

It’s something Ohonme is all-too familiar with growing up as a child in Nigeria. That is, until he won a pair of shoes some missionaries were giving away in a basketball contest.

“A pair of shoes? It was like a Mercedes,” he said. “I was the first kid in my family, in my community, with shoes. It changed my life.”

Pair of shoes distributed by Samaritan’s Feet. (credit: Samaritan’s Feet)

The shoes lead to a basketball scholarship in North Dakota, but Manny never forgot what it was like growing up shoeless. That led him to form Samaritan’s Feet, a foundation that’s pledged to provide millions of shoes to the shoeless.

“It’s the first shoe with active anti-microbial properties built right into the shoe,” said Manny.

The plastic shoes have an agent embedded in them that fights off the germs and parasites that infect the feet of hundreds of millions of children around the world.

Samaritan’s Feet has already distributed more than 7 million pairs of shoes in 100 countries as well as 375 communities in the United States. They’ve also partnered with numerous sports stars, coaches, and companies to deliver another 30 million shoes.

Manny says his ultimate dream is a world without shoeless kids. His shoes are made in the United States, are very lightweight, and kids can wear them to school as well as to play. One more benefit, they’re made of a biodegradable material so they don’t clog up landfills forever after they’re all worn out.


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