Note: Jiggers are parasites with health implications. The social stigma that comes with them is crippling to those who are infected. Sole Hope makes a difference by providing shoes that offer protection for vulnerable children.
Samuel lives in a village called Bujagali. He’s seen his community fall on hard times. He’s seen his brothers and sisters get so many jiggers (parasites that enter bare feet) they could barely walk to school. In fact, he knew of very little outside his own village. Until Sole Hope picked up Samuel and his sibling for medical treatement in their clinic, he’d never made the six-mile journey to Jinja where Sole Hope’s outreach is located. He opened the car’s windows and stuck his head out, feeling the whipping wind and dizzying speed, listening to the roar of the engine and the crunch of the dirt roads, memorizing each turn.
Joel lives with his grandfather. At twelve years old he is developing the resources and skills he needs to make his way in the world. Several months ago Joel saw Samuel go to the Sole Hope clinic. He saw him return jigger free and he continued to watch as Samuel lived. He lived in the same home and seemed like the same guy, but he wasn’t getting jiggers. Meanwhile, Joel’s feet itched. They burned. It hurt to walk and people were mocking him. He had a case of jiggers and it was getting to be too much to bear.
“How did those people treat you,” Joel asked Samuel.
“They treated me well. They are kind,” Samuel answered.
“You must take me there,” Joel said.
Joel and Samuel set off at 9 a.m. Joel walked barefoot on jigger-infested feet as 10-year-old Samuel relied on his memory to lead the way. With each step, Joel took in his surroundings. It was his first time to leave his village. Dirt roads turned into pockmarked pavement, and fields gave way to crowded markets. As noon came and went the tropical sun set the pavement ablaze with heat, and still Joel and Samuel walked without food, without water, they cooled their feet in the shade where they could, pressing on towards hope.
At 1 p.m. Joel and Samuel arrived at Sole Hope’s gate. They knocked and waited for the door to swing in, but it was Sunday afternoon, and the shoe shop was closed up tight. They were given lunch and a drink and were then sent home.
When we pulled into Bujagali, Samuel and Joel were not at all surprised. We took them to Sole Hope’s outreach center, fed them lunch, treated Joel’s feet and got them both new Sole Hope shoes. Riding in the back of the vehicle and drinking sodas on the way back home, the two friends had grins stretching from ear to ear. As they stepped out of the car and strode back into their yard, there was a dignity and a pride in the way they walked in their new shoes. They were two young friends who set out on a journey on foot to a faraway town. They were looking for help and searching for hope. Together they found it.