While on a trip to Uganda in October 2015, Becky Kent walked a mile in her own comfortable shoes.

Watching hundreds of barefooted children pass by gave the Hilliard resident a chance to walk in theirs.

Kent and her husband were visiting the central African country to help Hackers for Charity, a technology-assistance organization, when a fellow volunteer invited her to attend a jigger-removal clinic at a nearby ministry, Sole Hope.

"I would say it was the most powerful day of my life," Kent said.

About 150 children – all shoeless, their feet covered with painful sores from sand fleas, or jiggers – lined up to receive a foot washing, jigger extractions and a pair of shoes.

Kent stood by with a piece of paper on which were traced two feet. She marked the exact spot of each jigger – which, for some children, covered both feet or spread to the hands and knees.

Despite their pain – the jiggers burrow deep into feet and must be removed with safety pins – the youngsters radiated happiness, Kent said.

"You look at their face, and they are so full of joy," said Kent, 43. "You go home and we have basically everything. Why don't we have that same joy?"

After returning home to central Ohio, Kent couldn't shake the thought of how elated the kids became about a pair of shoes void of sparkles, flashing lights or cartoon characters.

She decided to host a "shoe-cutting party" at her Dublin church, Amlin United Methodist. Volunteers donated old pairs of jeans, cut them according to a premade pattern and pinned the pieces together.

Each denim portion formed the upper part of each shoe, which was then shipped to Sole Hope's headquarters in Salisbury, North Carolina, before being sent from there to Jinja, Uganda.

Sole Hope, a nonprofit started in 2010, hires Ugandans to finish the shoemaking process. They sew together the pinned portion and strap before attaching a heel made from recycled tires. Kent expected a handful of members from her congregation of 100 to show up, but many more – plus friends and family members – stopped by with old denim.

"It was so well received, we had 100 people that day to cut shoes," she said. "It was incredible to have that many people in our little tiny church."

Hoping to become even more involved in the organization, Kent signed up to become the Sole Hope advocate in Ohio. She speaks publicly about the organization, supports others who host shoe-cutting parties and sets a monthly goal of such events.

In April, the goal involved setting up two parties: one with Brownie Troop 1015 and another at Coffee Connections in Hilliard.

Amy Hissong, a longtime friend of Kent's, showed up to Coffee Connections early April 22 to run the merchandise table. She has been to four parties with Kent – "I like to be her wingman," Hissong said – and admires her friend's resourcefulness.

Kent creates ornaments from denim scraps and stencils thrift-store mugs with the Sole Hope logo, selling them at parties to raise additional money for the ministry.

"She doesn't let things get in her way," Hissong said. "She's quietly confident and capable. ... She doesn't make excuses."

In June, Kent plans to return to Uganda – this time with her husband and sons, ages 11 and 16 – to attend another jigger clinic and to volunteer at a home for women once living on the street.

The most pressing problem facing Sole Hope, Kent said, is a lack of funding for the cost of making the shoes. Although shoe-party participants are encouraged to donate $10 to pay the shoe makers and tailors in Uganda, the money isn't required. Coffee Connections owners Nate and Sharon Grenier donated all $1,340.84 of the coffee shop's April tips to sponsor shoes, but the generous gesture is the exception rather than the rule.

Only a third of shoes sent to Sole Hope are sponsored, which recently led the company to postpone shoe-cutting parties in favor of "Care Kit" parties. At $2 each, the care kits provide supplies – safety pins, cotton balls and stickers – used in jigger-removal clinics.

According to Sole Hope co-founder Dru Collie, simply having the knowledge necessary to combat jiggers can change a child's educational opportunities and social standing.

"When a child comes to Sole Hope ravaged with jiggers so much that it affects their body and kills their spirit, but leaves head held high, jigger-free and equipped with the knowledge to remain that way – that's where I see we are making a difference," Collie said.

Watching children skip away from the clinic in their own pair of shoes, Kent said, reminded her of how good she has it.

"When you go from nothing to a new pair of shoes, that is a life-changing experience for you," she said. "I think sometimes it's better to have less than to have more."

joller@dispatch.com

@juliaoller