Samaritan's Feet founder says simple donation can change a life
By News-Argus Staff
Published in News on January 17, 2005 2:01 PM
Emmanuel Ohonme, founder and president of Samaritan's Feet International, summed up his organization's mission as giving "a sole for a soul."
Ohonme has made it his mission to reach 10 million impoverished people over the next 10 years and "through shoes, show them love and inspire them to make a difference," he said during Wayne Community College's 2005 Martin Luther King Jr. celebration last week.
Ohonme grew up in Logos, Nigeria, living with 12 relatives in a two-bedroom house. He didn't sleep in a bed until he came to the United States to attend college. Like many children in Third World countries, he didn't own a pair of shoes until he was nine years old, when an American gave him a pair of tennis shoes.
Launched by those shoes, Ohonme discovered sports, received a basketball scholarship to an American college, and earned a master's degree. He landed a series of jobs with generous salaries, married his college sweetheart, had four children, bought a nice house and then, following a visit to his hometown, decided he pass on the favor for other shoeless kids. He started Samaritan's Feet International in 2003.
Of the 6.4 billion people in the world, Ohonme said, two-thirds live on less than $200 a year. "Adidas is not part of their priority list," he said.
Ohonme knows firsthand how much something as simple as a pair of shoes can change a life. He said that shoes, more than cloth, leather, rubber or plastic, are a tangible reminder that someone cares, which in turn provides hope.
"There are billions and billions of children in the world saying, 'Would you look at me? ... Would you show me you care?' " he said. "The most important thing we can give them is the hope to know that their lives make a difference."
Ohonme said he has seen hope in the face of a child who has just received his first pair of shoes and yet he doesn't even know how to walk in them.
"I'm trying to make an exchange. It is a sole for a soul," Ohonme said.
He encouraged his audience to find their own mission. "You can make a difference. Ask yourself what is the purpose I am living for," he said. "When that passion drives you, you can do anything you set your mind to."
He said passion is what has driven him and continues to motivate him to raise 50,000 pairs of shoes those recently affected by the Indian Ocean tsunami.
He is 160 pairs of shoes and $500 closer to reaching that goal following a drive by Wayne Community's Multi-Cultural Association for Enrichment, contributions by the college's Global Education/Diversity Committee and individuals who attended the Ohonme's speech and the Soul Food Festival that followed.
MCAE advisor Janice Fields said the donations ranged from baby shoes to work boots. Most impressive, she said, were the large number of new shoes purchased for the drive.
"We are sure that the recipients will be most grateful for the new and the used," she said.
She said the club plans to make the shoe collection an on-going project.
Ohonme thanked the college for its partnership with Samaritan's Feet.
Because of it, he said, "there will be children around the world who will get a pair of shoes. But more important, they will get to experience that hope and love of God."
For more information on Samaritan's Feet or to contribute to the organization's relief effort for the orphaned children across South East Asia hit by the tsunami, people can go to www.samaritansfeet.org or call 866-833-SHOE (7463).
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