Some children living in Belize would give anything to walk a mile in your shoes. Or, for that matter, shoes.
Shoes and other important things most people take for granted, like education and health care, are things that Body and Soul Ministries is trying to supply to the children of Belize.
"We feel that if you are going to minister to the soul, that the bodily needs have to be taken care of first," said Teresa Hayden, Financial and Sponsorship Director for Body and Soul Ministries.
"Most of these children, if they have shoes, they have flip flops. I've seen the shoes held together with duct tape and strings. I've seen little boys pull their pant legs down and put tape around the bottoms to keep from walking barefoot. So we started a shoe fund."
Hayden, from Church Hill, got involved with the ministry after taking mission trips to the ministries' compound in Roaring Creek, Belize in 2002.
"The people are just so receptive and our whole goal is to give them a hand up and not necessarily a handout," Hayden said. "Because if you give them a handout, then it only goes so far. So we really believe that education is the way to help them."
Body and Soul Ministries was founded in 1995 by Ralph and Penny Digman, who gave up their life of comfort in Indiana to move to Belize. After starting a clinic in the area, they were rewarded with a plot of land where the compound stands and, from there, a school sponsorship program was also born.
Education in Belize is not free and can get pricey as parents are required to buy uniforms, school books and supplies on top of paying a tuition. The ministry started providing the money for one child to go to school in 2000 and it has evolved into helping almost 650 kids attend school and realize their dreams of an education.
This would not be possible without generous people who are making a difference - one child at a time - by becoming sponsors, Hayden explained.
"It is a very poor country," Hayden said. "We are located in the center of Belize, in Roaring Creek, however, we minister to families in villages throughout the Cayo District. So many of the houses in the villages don't have any electricity, running water or bathroom facilities, and most have dirt floors.
"In Belize the families and children know that education is the way to grow and improve their lives to help their families," she added.
The poverty is the consuming feature of the area, where continuing education can hopefully provide a new foundation for the fledgling country. The ministry has found sponsors to donate the $250 a year needed for the children to go to school. Those sponsors range from all across the United States and even from Canada.
Being so invested in providing the opportunities to the children, Hayden and others are constantly gathering school supplies throughout the year to ship to Belize, always searching for the big sales to stock up on as many as 3,500 composition notebooks to provide for the children.
"Whenever the stores get their big sales, I find them and buy them out," Hayden said. "We provide the kids with everything that they need, from pencils to erasers to everything."
Hayden will be making another trip to Belize in August to help get the kids ready for school. She will also return in March to meet with the sponsored children and their teachers of the schools to make sure that the kids are doing well.
"I go down to check on their progress and make sure that all the kids are getting what they need and doing good in school," Hayden said.
Sponsors will also get first-hand accounts of how the kids are doing from the kids as they receive letters and pictures. The children also enjoy hearing from the people that are helping provide them with the opportunity.
"The kids love getting pictures and letters and learning about the people that are helping them get through school," Hayden said.
The ministry encourages anyone to provide even just a dollar to the shoe fund to help provide an often forgotten treasure that so many of us enjoy.
All donations and sponsorships are tax deductible. The ministry also provides groups the opportunity to visit the area as a mission trip for churches and schools.