He travels barefoot to ensure every Indian has shoes to wear – Joyappa Achaiah’s story

4th Dec 2017
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Starting with Uttar Pradesh, the Barefoot Movement spread to other states like Assam, Maharashtra, Kerala, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka.

In a country where more than 50 percent cannot afford a decent living, footwear takes a backseat. We’ve forgotten that going barefoot leaves us exposed to dangers like bacterial or fungal infections, viral infections such as plantar warts, contracting hookworm and stepping on glass or rusty nails. These dangers motivated Joyappa Achaiah (36) to follow an uncommon path.

Safe Karnataka campaign

Joyappa worked in real estate and event management, travelling around countries and gaining opportunities to work in the social sector. In 2015, he quit his job at Birla Apple Spire to pursue social entrepreneurship full-time.

“I felt, with my experience, I could have a larger impact on society. I started Safe Bengaluru and under that banner, set about my work. On advice from the Home Minister Dr G. Parameshwara, I decided to direct my efforts towards the whole state. The campaign changed to Safe Karnataka, under which I started working towards causes like women empowerment, traffic control, and road safety. The results from these campaigns weren’t as colossal as I imagined”, says Joyappa, who treaded on this path with his colleague Lim Changappa, co-founder of Safe Karnataka, and recently parted ways.

The turning point - Barefoot Campaign under Safe India

Together, they wished to tackle something that was unheard of and began their research. He found his answer on his trip to Uttar Pradesh in January 2017, where he interacted with around 5000 villagers. On inquiring about the daily struggles they faced, they replied saying it was transportation and working in the fields barefoot.

“We don’t realise that it's not just school children who require footwear, adults do too,” he says. This motivated them to perform a survey with their international clients and NGOs working with WHO and the UN. The result was that they had found an untouched subject that they were willing to dedicate all their efforts towards.

The idea took two years to conceptualise and finally, a year ago in January 2017, Barefoot campaign was launched.

“I quickly realised that Safe Karnataka was limiting me to a single state. The decision to change the name to Safe India was made which allowed all the campaigns under Safe Karnataka to go national, which allowed Barefoot to go national”, commented Joyappa.

Starting with Uttar Pradesh, the Barefoot Movement spread to other states like Assam, Maharashtra, Kerala, Telangana, and Andhra Pradesh. To set the ball rolling at a faster pace, Joyappa and Changappa took up the 100-days-barefoot challenge starting from May 1 to August 8, 2017.

“We went around the country barefoot. It was a wonderful conversation starter at my client meetings - the look of surprise followed by 15 minutes of the meeting consumed in explaining my lack of footwear. We started small, but by the end of the challenge, all the pain we felt had been channelled into creating a bigger movement”, says Joyappa.

They organised a collection drive with cardboard boxes kept in public locations like ITPL, Manyata Tech Park, Embassy Golf Links and Phoenix Market City. Used footwear were dropped into these boxes, if they were in good condition, they were directly distributed else were refurbished before being distributed among the poor.

Plans for the future

A petition has been made to the Karnataka government to initiate Padharaksha Bhagya programme that will help supply footwear to 10 lakh people. A Barefoot Corporate Football Tournament is scheduled to take place in January 2018; the funds collected will be used to supply footwear to the needy.

In February next year, Joyappa hopes to break the Guinness Record by having around 3000 people place their footprints on a 150 ft. canvas.

“My work has not been funded but recently, a lot of organisations are looking to support my efforts,” says Joyappa, who’s won two National awards and has been nominated for Indian of The Year 2017-2018 for his efforts.

The coming year has many things in store under the Safe India banner, the most important being taking the Barefoot movement to the world. Joyappa hopes to involve 40 countries in his movement.

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