I read this article yesterday, published in the New York Times, discussing the pros and cons of running barefoot.

Daniel Lieberman, a professor at Harvard University, studies barefoot running. He says that there “is good evidence that humans have been running long distances for millions of years, and most of that was probably done barefoot.”

Dr. Lieberman himself runs barefoot periodically.

Running barefoot is becoming quite popular, nowadays, with many groups advocating it. It is said to be ‘more healthy’ than running wearing shoes. Some advise running barefoot simply because it is more enjoyable!

Abebe Bikila was a two-time Olympic marathon champion from Ethiopia. He competed in the 1960 Olympics in Rome as part of the Ethiopian Olympic team.

Adidas was the sponsor for shoes at the Olympics and Bikila was given a pair of shoes by them that didn’t fit comfortably. “A couple of hours before the race the decision was taken by Abebe to run barefoot, the way he’d trained for the race.”

And he went on to win that race in record time, becoming the first black African to win an Olympic gold medal. The runner from Ethiopia, who ran barefoot, beat all the other competitors running in fancy sports shoes.

In India, poverty is widespread, with one third of the world’s poor estimated to be here in India. India’s people are barefoot, not out of choice, but out of necessity.

There are great disparities in income resulting in a small percentage of people living in luxury while the majority both in urban and rural areas subsisting in poverty.

It is heartening, therefore, to read about the Barefoot College, which began its activities in 1972.

Have any of you heard about this initiative? This is the first time I have come across information about this.

It has created a non-formal education process for children and adults which assists students to develop a sustainable community. Their barefoot process has radiated to surrounding villages and taken root in thirteen Indian States. The College has influenced local, state and national policies regarding education and development.”

The Barefoot College believes that the solutions to rural problems, like unavailability of drinking water, education of the girl child, health and sanitation, lie within the community itself.

It encourages practical knowledge or skills rather than formal education. The College works towards improving the quality of life of the rural poor.

I was particularly interested to read its Code of Conduct which includes-

Have respect for collective, traditional knowledge, beliefs, wisdom and practices of the community.”

Be committed to the preservation of natural resources and not endorse processes that destroy, exploit or abuse natural resources.”

Use appropriate technologies that sustain the community and not encourage technologies that deprive people of their livelihoods.”

These seem to be guidelines that would well suit the needs of rural India today.