In El Salvador last year for an Alternative Breaks trip, Kali Chatham decided to take a run through the rural community of La Cieba, and her host mother agreed to go with her. But when it was time to set out, the woman came down dressed in jeans and flip-flops.
“I said, ‘You take my tennis shoes, socks and shorts and I’ll take one of the other girls’ shoes,’” says Chatham, a 2009 grad who’s now earning a master’s degree in human genetics at the University of Arkansas.
Toward the end of the jog, a boy with autism ran sprints with her in his bare feet. “That’s when I started thinking they all need tennis shoes, whether it’s for women’s health or children’s health or for people with developmental disabilities,” says Chatham, a former member of the Xavier women’s swim team.
As she started graduate school, Chatham launched Soles for Salud with the goal of collecting 200 pairs of gently used athletic shoes to send to La Cieba. Chatham collected shoes in Little Rock and Kansas City and on Xavier’s campus, where student-athletes filled the Office of Academic Advising with footwear.
Soles for Salud eventually ended up with 600 pairs of shoes, now all sorted and waiting for delivery in Little Rock.
FedEx agreed to deliver 500 pairs of shoes for free, and Chatham had planned to accompany the shipment in early August, but violence in El Salvador prompted her to postpone the trip. She now hopes to travel by the end of the year.