Can one person really change the world? Of course! In fact, when you purchase a copy of Walk in Their Shoes, you’ve made a difference for the good—all net royalties go directly to buildOn, an organization that works to provide education to young people all over the world.
And that organization exists because one person chose to change the world. Walk in Their Shoes is the story of Jim Ziolkowski’s awakening, vision, and journey to give meaning to his own life while making life a better journey for others.
Raised in a slightly-saner-than-normal family, Jim graduated from Michigan State University with a degree in business then set out on a tour of Europe before entering the workforce. His travels took him to the magnificent tourist spots, of course, but also to Auschwitz and Birkenau, and eventually to Thailand, India, and Nepal.
Upon his return home, Jim went into corporate finance, where he could look forward to a good income and bright future. He had the Great American Dream in his hands, and yet…
I couldn’t reconcile the intense work in the comfortable offices in Connecticut with the harsh suffering I had seen in those overwhelmed cities in India.
Most of us in that position would have made a generous donation to an aid organization. Jim chose to go further; he gave up his cushy job and secure life, enlisted the help of his brother and a friend, and set out to change the world by building three schools on different continents.
Obstacles? Sure. It takes a lot of money and a lot of support to build a dream, and three kids with no track record and no training in any of the necessary areas aren’t attractive to big investors. Despite tireless fundraising, relatively little financial backing appeared. Jim and friends, like all those who steer society in a new direction, refused to give up, and through the power of determination, they made the vision a reality.
Challenges did not magically melt away when the money arrived, however. The plan called for collaboration with the residents of villages where the schools would be built; after all, their children and grandchildren and ultimately the entire community would be the beneficiaries. Wisely, the buildOn team spent time walking in the shoes of those they’d be working with, living as the villagers lived, facing many of the same challenges and threats. Despite the good intentions, the well-meaning philanthropists were never far from their privilege. When Jim got malaria, for example, he had money for and access to medical care. When the village children got malaria, they died.
Aside from funds and disease, team members encountered apathy, gun-wielding armies, and political maneuvering. Even when the program expanded to serve at-risk youth back home in the States, nearly-identical obstacles posed threats to the dream, to the team, and to those they aimed to help.
The key to changing the world, it seems, is to pay more attention to the inspiration than to the odds. In Walk in Their Shoes, Jim Ziolkowski shares the stories of people who reminded him over and over again just how important a single person’s words or deeds can be.
More than an inspirational history, more than a call to action, Walk in Their Shoes is a roadmap for those of dream of making a difference. It pulls no punches; changing the world is not to be accomplished through warm-fuzzy affirmations, and the world seldom bows gracefully to good intentions. This is a story that assures us of the possibility of happy endings, but also a warning about the need for commitment and courage in our daily lives.