Article: No Shoes, Big Service

By | October 27, 2008

Pop group Hanson walks here to raise awareness of poverty in Africa

More than a decade ago, “MmmBop” put Isaac, Taylor and Zac Hanson on the map. But since the 2007 release of their most recent album, “The Walk,” the brothers have gone global, taking steps against disease and poverty half a world away.

Sunday, joined by about 250 fans, Hanson completed a one-mile barefoot march through the streets of Lancaster city. The walks, which take place at each stop on the band’s Walk Around the World Tour, encourage others to raise awareness and funds for relief efforts in Africa.

“The main message is action,” Isaac Hanson said after the walk. “Many of us feel like we know a lot about an issue, but don’t really know exactly how to act. … And the idea is to take awareness to action. Because awareness is great, but action is substantially better.”

The tour, which began last fall, originally collaborated with Toms Shoes, a company that matches every purchase by donating shoes to a needy child. In November 2007, Hanson joined the company on a shoe drop that provided 50,000 pairs to African youth.

Soon, the mission grew to encompass other African causes: providing health care, drilling wells, building schools and donating cell phone minutes for more immediate access to doctors and emergency care.

The band contributes $1 on behalf of every walker and aims to rack up 24,902 miles — the circumference of the Earth. So far, more than 9,000 miles have been completed.

On Sunday, Hanson’s walk year served as a precursor for the band’s 6 p.m. concert at The Chameleon Club. Starting at the venue, a parade of camera-toting Hanson enthusiasts accompanied the trio to Buchanan Park and back.

For many, even a glimpse of the musicians made the sunny fall day even brighter.

“Anyone who has the chance to do something like they are doing should,” said Sruti Iyer, 18. “Plus, it made me feel a little less ridiculous about buying two copies of their album for backup.”

Iyer, a Hanson fan since age 8, drove from the University of Delaware, where she is a freshman, for the event. She missed the walk by a few minutes, but remained in good spirits, anticipating the band’s return in front of the club on Water Street. She also had tickets for Hanson’s concert.

The brothers made several trips to Africa before and during the completion of “The Walk.” During a 2006 visit to Soweto, a poverty-and disease-stricken township outside Johannesburg, South Africa, they recorded one track with a chorus of middle school children.

Singing in their native Zulu, the children chanted “Ngi ne thema,” meaning “I have hope.” Proceeds from the song, “Great Divide,” go toward relief efforts.

“I love the Martin Luther King quote — I’m going to paraphrase it slightly — but it’s ‘Everyone can be great because everyone can serve,'” Isaac Hanson said. “I think that’s really a part of what this is about: awakening that greatness in service in all of us. Each one of these people’s miles matter and all of our miles matter throughout our lives.”

Through its Web site,, the band encourages fans to host their own walks and lead action in their communities.

Additionally, a new coffee table book and EP, “Take the Walk,” to be released in November, will aid the endeavor. Through writing and photographs, the book commemorates Hanson’s personal experiences in Africa.

Isaac said the tour is about spreading the word that everyone can do his or her part, no matter how small, to make a difference. For the brothers, this means using their successful musical careers to reach out to as many people as possible. And fans are listening.

“It helps you realize how much you have,” said Abbey Andrews, 16, of Nazareth, after completing the Lancaster walk.

Although she chose to keep her shoes on — an option for every walker — she believed coming out for the cause was important.

Her friend, Erin Rodenbough, 16, also of Nazareth, felt a little more adventurous and chose to join the brothers in traveling shoeless.

“I wanted to, because it’s a really good message,” she said. “I have a hole in my sock now, actually, but that’s OK.”

Zac Hanson said he and his brothers have rarely missed the opportunity to go barefoot — including Saturday’s rain-filled walk in Poughkeepsie, N.Y.

“There were two walks when it was so cold we walked with our shoes on,” he said. “When it was like, below zero.”

The band said the gesture illustrates the discomfort of lacking essential possessions.

“We live in a virtual world and we forget what it is to truly be connected to one another in a emotional and physical way,” Isaac Hanson said. “I think this helps us. It certainly helps me. Over and over, it’s a reminder — whether you walk it with shoes or without — that small things matter. It’s a reminder that small things are shared. And we always want to be a part of the big thing, but the big red button doesn’t exist.”

For more information on the tour or on hosting a walk, visit


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