When third-year business major Christopher Soliver embarked to the Dominican Republic, he was horrified by the poverty he encountered.
“The first thing I saw was people walking around without shoes,” Soliver said. “It was really shocking.”
Soliver said he was so disturbed by what he saw that he and his fraternity, La Unidad Latina Lambda Upsilon Lambda Fraternity Inc. opted to collect shoes and educate the New Paltz campus about poverty during their three week campaign “A Bare Mile.” Throughout the month of October, Soliver and his brothers have placed boxes by the entrance of each residence hall, asking students to donate a pair of shoes to their cause.
On Wednesday, Oct. 17, Soliver hosted an event in SU 100 at 8 p.m. to inform students about the conditions residents of the Dominican Republic, Haiti and other impoverished countries must endure without shoes.
“It’s uncomfortable to walk around shoeless in these countries because a lot of the environment is agricultural,” Soliver said. “People face hot climates and rocky terrain which is painful to endure barefoot. There are also a lot of muddy grasslands filled with bacteria. If you walk barefoot, you’re at risk to contract an infection. People can lose their lives because they don’t have shoes.”
For the La Unidad Latina fraternity, Soliver said “A Bare Mile” hits close to home. Though he was raised in the Dominican Republic until he was 3, he was the first member of his family to be born in the United States. A number of members in his fraternity are from these countries and although some are first generation Americans, they have witnessed poverty firsthand, he said.
“This campaign is an opportunity for us to give back to our direct communities,” Soliver said. “We realize how fortunate we are to be living here and we want to reach out to those in need.”
In order to make sure New Paltz’s donations reach the appropriate communities, Soliver said he has teamed up with the Soles4Souls organization. Established in 2005, Soles4Souls has delivered more than 19 million pairs of new and gently-worn shoes to more than 125 countries including Kenya, Thailand and Nepal. Soliver hopes to assemble at least 100 pairs of shoes through his program.
Although this is his first year running this campaign, Soliver has high hopes for the future. As president of the New Paltz La Unidad Latina fraternity chapter, he aspires to share his mission with other chapters in the coming years. While “A Bare Mile” is focused primarily on the New Paltz campus, Soliver is open to reaching out to locals as well.
“We don’t have as much of a presence in town, but we’re open to working with business or anyone interested in donating,” Soliver said. “We’d like to collect all the shoes we can.”
Soliver said he hopes the program encourages other students not only to learn about global issues, but to be proactive and make an effort to do something about them in their own communities.