1 NEWS Community: Kiwi woman goes five years without wearing shoes to raise money to help Cambodian children get an education

A six month challenge to go without shoes turned into a five year journey which saw one young New Zealander form a charity which helped thousands of children in Cambodia gain an education.

Katie Boom has raised thousands of dollars and helped thousands of children by going barefoot for five years. Source: 1 NEWS

Shoeless began back in 2012 when its founder Katie Boom, then 21, was working as a music teacher in prisons in Cambodia.

It was during this time Katie saw first-hand the plight of children living in the slums in Phnom Penh.

"Seeing those kids and how they didn’t have shoes and how they were unable to go to school a lot of the time; it really struck me," Katie says.

"Very few of them make it through primary school let alone into high school let alone finish high school."

Not wanting to "slip back into her old life and forget her experiences" when she moved back to New Zealand, Katie says she wanted to do something for those children she met.

"I wanted to be able to do something about what I'd seen because seeing poverty in person impacted me.

"I decided when I moved back to New Zealand in 2012 that I wanted to try going shoeless for six months as a way to raise awareness and maybe do something practical to help the kids that I’d met stuck in a poverty cycle."

Those six months of going barefoot turned into five years and the charity Shoeless was born which uses donations to pay for Cambodian children to go to school.

To help raise funds for those she was supporting back in Cambodia, Katie walked a total of 54 kilometres in New Zealand and Cambodia in two separate challenges - shoeless.

"I decided I was going to do something wild to fundraise for our kids there."

In 2016 she walked 33 kilometres from Upper Hutt to Wellington central to raise money for her charity and then in 2017 she completed a half marathon in Phnom Penh.

"My favourite part about that event was a whole lot of the kids and teenagers from the local schools took turns walking with me.

"They made me cry telling me stories about how school had changed their lives."

Completing walking challenges barefoot were not the only challenges Katie faced during those five years she went without shoes.

She has injured her foot twice, once by stepping on the prongs of a power plug, and has been kicked out of bars and events for not wearing shoes.

"I was once kicked out of a movie theatre which I found quite surprising."

Katie says people often asked by strangers if she was homeless.

"I would have three or four conversations a day just purely prompted by the fact that I was barefoot."

Throughout the time she ran her charity, Katie was supported by countless Kiwis who held bake sales and walked barefoot themselves to help raise money for Shoeless.

A big restructure internationally with one of Shoeless' New Zealand partners forced Katie to make a major decision about her charity earlier this year.

"I was faced with a choice. Either I was going to re-register Shoeless again as a charity, which is a big process, or I was going to end it."

Katie decided after half a decade and having supported 1200 children and 30 schools in Cambodia to end Shoeless.

"I think it’s good to finish things at the right time. We don’t often talk about finishing things in our culture, but I think things should come to a good end."

Katie says her charity did what it was supposed to do and considers it a "win" that it lasted five years and raised tens of thousands for those in need.

Now only owning one pair of shoes, Katie continues to work in charity as a music therapist to children with disabilities and teenagers with mental health issues in Northland.