27 migrants donated their shoes so strangers can literally walk a mile in them

27 migrants donated their shoes so strangers can literally walk a mile in them
From Mashable - February 22, 2018

On a bright, cold February morning in London, I put on shoes that belonged to perfect strangers and went walking.

No, I am not some kind of shoe-obsessed kleptomaniac. This was a visit to the Empathy Museuman experiential art project that has been running since 2015. It first sprung up in Vauxhall, London and has travelled all over the world since then; to Australia, Brazil and Ireland to name a few.

The exhibit, called A Mile in My Shoes, takes the form of a gigantic shoeboxwhich was plonked in the middle of a car park when I went to visit. Inside you are given a stranger's pair of shoes to wear, along with an MP3 player and some headphones. The owner of the shoes tells their story for about fifteen minutesthe rough amount of time it takes for most people to walk a mile.

Do not worry, they keep the shoes nice and clean. They even have bowling alley spray.

I listened to two stories. The first was Sarah, a nurse and polio victim who came to Scotland from Mauritius and now lives in Hackney, east London. The second was Bilal, a middle weight boxing champion who has represented England six times. He came to the country when he was a teenager, and was recently threatened with deportation and held in a detention centre.

The Empathy Museum currently has twenty-seven pairs (sizes four to 11) for people to try on, but over the course of the Museum's existence it has collated over 200.

You can listen to some of the Empathy Museum's previous storytellers on Soundcloud, but it really does not compare to the sensation of literally being in the shoes. The stories feel so much more intimate, and the emotions they evoke are infectious. Walking for only a short while you might feel any number of emotions, ranging from deep burning shame, to boiling anger, or soaring joy.

The importance of stories

We were lucky enough to talk to one of the storytellers who donated his shoes to the project. Originally from Nigeria, Peter Atakpo came to Britain in 2010 and works as a barber in Clapham, south-west London. He was contacted by the Empathy Museum after collaborating on a play called Barber Shop Chronicles.

Peter was enthusiastic about the project before he even knew what it was. "When I just saw the titlea project by the Empathy Museum I was like, I do not even care what it is. I am in."

"Doing barbering has really taught me to empathise with people," he told us. "Because I meet a lot of people, and you ca not really relate to them until you kind of put yourself in their shoes."

Peter gave us an example of an encounter in his barber shop that woke him up to the importance of empathy. A client of his who uses a wheelchair came in but Peter was running a little late, so the client said he would come back in 45 minutes. When he returned for his haircut Peter asked where he had gone, and the answer came: to find a toilet.

"That's when it dawned on me," Peter said, "these are just things we take for granted, simple things. Something as simple as going out to ease yourself, this brother had to travel all the way to wherever, because he is disabled. It's going to be a mission for him, just to ease himself and come back again."

"When you hear these kind of stories," he said, "then you tend to empathise. So the next time he came I did not even care if I had twenty people or whateveras soon as he comes, whether he has an appointment or not, he's getting straight in the chair."

Empathy and Migration

Practical applications of empathy


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