North Meck students learn shoes can save lives
by Staff Writer
HUNTERSVILLE – Clyde Rivers, an honorary U.S. ambassador at-large for the Republic of Burundi, had a message for North Mecklenburg High School students.
More than 300 million people around the globe can’t afford shoes. Going shoeless, Rivers said, puts them at risk for sole-transmitted diseases and deadly parasites.
Rivers and Emmanuel “Manny” Ohonme, founder of Samaritan’s Feet, teamed up Nov. 9 to share their stories with a group of North Meck High students. Samaritan’s Feet has donated more than 4 million pairs of shoes to children and adults in more than 60 countries.
“No one should ever have to die when some of us have two, three, four or five pairs in our closets,” Ohonme said while telling students about the non-profit’s Youth Ambassador Program, open to Charlotte-area high school students.
The Nigerian native recalled the day almost 30 years ago that an American stranger gave him his first pair of tennis shoes as a gift. He was so happy about the shoes, he said, that he forgot to fetch water for his family on the way back to home.
“I was so excited because that day I became the first person in my family to wear tennis shoes,” Ohonme said.
The shoes allowed him to participate in competitive basketball and Ohonme eventually earned a full basketball scholarship to the University of North Dakota. The poverty he witnessed on a trip back home sparked an idea.
Five years later Ohonme organized Samaritan’s Feet in 2003.
Participants in the youth program will travel to Burundi, in central Africa, next July to distribute shoes, Rivers said.
Part of the country’s economic situation stems from simmering ethnic tensions between the Hutu and Tutsi people stemming from the country’s days of colonial rule that sparked a civil war from 1993 to 2005 and resulted in the death of about 300,000 people. That’s almost equal to the populations of Huntersville, Cornelius, Davidson, Mooresville and Statesville combined.
Now, about 64 percent of Burundi’s population is younger than 18, Rivers said. The donated shoes, he contends, could help save the lives of some of the nation’s most poverty-stricken orphans.
“What we have is a nation of kids,” he said, “but those kids have hope.”
The words by Ohonme and River left an impact on the students, including ninth-graders Sharon Chen and Zariah Roy and 11th-grader Stephan Snyder.
Snyder said he is considering organizing a dodge ball tournament to benefit the organization, while Chen said she plans to apply to become a youth ambassador.
Roy said she felt a personal connection to Samaritan’s Feet because of the experiences she had on a trip to the Dominican Republic, where she taught at Saturday education camps.
“I feel like it’s up to me to make a change,” Roy said. “I felt like he was speaking directly to me.”
Want to help?
Carolina Panthers football player Steve Smith will join Samaritan’s Feet for a Barefoot Knockout Basketball Tournament Foundation 6-8 p.m. Nov. 27 at Concord Mills. To participate, bring $10 or a new pair of shoes to the mall’s food court for the event.