I'm Nittai Malchin, a senior at Palo Alto High School in CA and the founder of One Love Advocates. Our mission is to do whatever possible to improve access to education in communities that are struggling with destructive or endemic problems. My immediate focus is helping kids in Haiti gain access to educational opportunities. I recently traveled to Haiti, and I will be documenting my trip on this site. There are 4 sections (see navigation above) to my mini site: (1) my blog where i document my activities, impressions and thoughts from Haiti (2) About One Love where you can read more about the initiative (3) Support One Love where you can learn how to get involved, donate or help (4) contact info. And on the right sidebar you will find more info such as links to other sites, feeds, photos, videos, and ways to contact me or share One Love with others. Also, check out the cool toolbar on the bottom of your screen to see our videos, photos, and Facebook page, for translations, and more. Thank you for visiting and feel free to share your thoughts.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Crocs - Sandals for Survival

Comfortable, cheap, reliable, convenient, yet incredibly ugly. These are some of the ways in which people characterize Crocs, the foam shoe that took over the shoe market for quite some time a few years ago. To most, these $15 foam sandals are nice to wear here and there, but not much more than that. To the Haitians (especially on Mon Bouton), however, they mean much, much more.

For the residents of Mon Bouton, who take the treacherous hike up and down the mountain on a daily basis, sometimes more than once, shoes are a vital part of their "outfit." Real hiking boots seem ideal for this situation, but they actually pose several problems. First and foremost, they are too rare and expensive for the Haitians to come by easily. Next, in a place as hot and humid as Haiti, hiking boots would likely prove to be too warm and cumbersome. As I learned during my trip, mobility and convenience is key for the Haitians, as they are constantly on the move - in and out of dirt, mud, and water throughout the day. For these reasons exactly, Crocs are the ideal, multi-purpose shoes for many Haitians.

During my second trip to Haiti, as we made our way up the mountain to Mon Bouton, I traveled the same way the Haitians who were lucky enough did: in Crocs (others walked in sandals or with no sandals at all.) Now, the reason I chose to do so was that my other shoes were soaked from our earlier crossing of a river, so I was left with no other options. The seven hour hike up the mountain is hard enough as it is, but being forced to hike it with the traction-less Crocs was a tremendously difficult task. I was constantly slipping and falling over the dirt and rocks. For the Haitians (who also carried some of our bags full of soccer equipment), however, what seemed to me like an impossible task, was second nature. Like many other aspects of survival, their ability to not only stay on pace with us, with the extra baggage they had to carry, but to go almost twice as fast as us has not ceased to amaze me. Even when Toma's heels were basically touching the ground with each step he took, due to a huge hole in the bottom of his Crocs, he was able to keep up his pace.

At the end of our journey on Mon Bouton, we all left our Crocs for Toma and the rest of the Mon Bouton residents. It was the very least that we could do after they hosted us in their "houses", and more importantly, created an experience for us that we will never forget. Toma took them reluctantly, thanking us endlessly, as if we had just given him the world's greatest gift. To see how grateful he was for what seemed to be a simple, somewhat useless thing truly put things into perspective for me. Omri, Drew, my Dad, and I gave our Crocs away without a second thought, and in the process, changed the way Toma and the others would live - at least until they got holes in their new Crocs. While I thought about the way the Crocs looked, Toma only thought of them as a tool for survival. As usual, he (representing the larger Haitian population) was able to make the most out of the least. My struggles climbing up the mountain with Crocs, not to mention the others' struggles with normal shoes, magnify the Haitians' ability to work through their troubles with persistence and resourcefulness.

While this may seem like a trivial issue to most people, it is in fact a matter of survival for Toma, Jacob, Destine, and countless others who live in similar situations in Haiti. Next time I see a pair of Crocs I'll think of them differently: not as unnecessary, ugly sandals, but rather as a basic necessity.

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