A Haitian girl styles her new shoes

They’re bright. They’re sturdy. They’re trendy. They’re Crocs – the often gaudily colored plastic shoes worn on playgrounds, hospital floors, beaches and hiking trails all across the United States. And as of this month, they’re on the feet of thousands of children, women and men on the central plateau of Haiti.

The sudden popularity of Crocs in poor Haitian communities wasn’t dictated by fashion. It was prescribed by doctors. Going barefoot in the rocky hills and muddy valleys of Haiti isn’t just uncomfortable. It leads to a major public health problem – an epidemic of tungiasis, an infestation of sand fleas that can cause pain, itching, swelling, open sores and, if left untreated, sepsis, tetanus or gangrene.

So when they learned that 40,000 pairs of Crocs were available, Zanmi Lasante (ZL, PIH’s partner organization in Haiti) and the Haitian Ministry of Health jumped at the offer.

A Zanmi Lasante doctor examines a patients' feet for signs of sand flea infestation

The donation included not only the value of the shoes contributed by Crocs Footwear but all the costs of shipping them from the factory in China to the docks in Port-au-Prince.

The initiative was orchestrated by Kageno Worldwide, a non-profit dedicated to “transform[ing] communities suffering from inhumane poverty into places of opportunity and hope.” Kageno solicited the shoes from Soles United, Crocs’ program for donating shoes made from recycled material. They also negotiated steeply discounted shipping terms with Cargo Services and arranged to split the costs of the shipping with Pearson Publishing. Brothers Brother, another nonprofit, took charge of getting the shoes into a container and onto the dock. ZL and the Ministry of Health assumed responsibility for distributing the shoes through mobile clinics.

Frank Andolino of Kageno traveled to Haiti to witness the beginning of distribution first-hand. In an email to other contributors, he reported: “I wish you all could be here! It has been amazing. 10,000 pairs of CROCS have safely made it from China to Haiti and 4,000 individuals have already benefited from your generosity.”

[posted June 2008]