Watching barefoot Jamaican children play outside and seeing barefoot locals around the island spurred Kent State University student Olivia Sliman to make a difference. Sliman, a junior electronic media production major, traveled to Jamaica in 2010.
“We were driving, and all of a sudden, out of nowhere, this bike tire came flying across the road,” she recalled. “We were in the jungle a little bit and we’re looking around. Ten kids came sprinting down the hill chasing after this bike tire, all with no shoes on this gravel road.”
Sliman questioned how constantly being barefoot doesn’t lead to injury or disease for them.
“These kids are phenomenal soccer players,” she said. “I have no foot skills at all, and to watch these kids play soccer at such an elite level just out on stones … it’s crazy! It’s like, ‘How could you possibly do that with no shoes on?’”
Sliman contrasted her experience of being an athlete and receiving new shoes every year to that of a Jamaican local who might not have shoes at all. Her trip motivated her to begin a shoe donation drive, and she ended that effort with 1,011 pairs of shoes collected, many from Kent State students and her home parish in Amherst, Ohio. Sliman did her best to ensure the charity she worked with, Soles4Souls, sent the shoes to Jamaica and to tsunami-stricken Japan, but she kept the cold-weather footwear to donate here in Ohio.
On getting involved to help others, Sliman is clear.
“There are so many opportunities that can be taken advantage of no matter who you are or what you’re interested in,” she said. “There’s everything here. It’s a big enough school where there’s something for everyone.”
Sliman also encourages students to study or travel abroad.
“The stuff we saw was mindboggling to me,” she said. “I had been out of the country before and been on different trips, but to see how badly off some of these people are is sad.”
Spreading the Word
Even though Sliman has received recognition from The Plain Dealer in Cleveland and media around her hometown of Amherst are calling her a hero, she is shrugging off the attention.
“I truly didn’t want anything out of this: just to spread the word,” Sliman said. “That’s why I like the recognition. Not for me personally, that means nothing, but just to get the word out that if you have an idea, do it,”
Sliman’s charitable work isn’t ending with shoes. She has begun collecting T-shirts this semester.
“I have T-shirts from tournaments I don’t even remember going to,” Sliman said. “I don’t wear them. They don’t mean anything to me anymore. It’s time to clean out my closet anyway, so we decided to do shirts.”
A donation box for shirts, coats and tops was set up at the University Parish Newman Center in February, but Sliman will accept donations through April. Email her at email@example.com to arrange a pickup.