FORT WAYNE — The sound of students’ feet echoing through the hallways as they entered the gym and climbed the bleachers was especially poignant during a recent assembly at Bishop Dwenger High School. Students and faculty gathered on Oct. 19 to make a presentation to the founder of Samaritan’s Feet, an international humanitarian organization providing shoes to children and disadvantaged people around the world.
Organized by the school’s Social Justice Club, a shoe and fund drive was held, which collected over 200 pairs of new shoes and more than $1,300 for the organization. The shoes will be sent to Liberia to be distributed during the Christmas season.
Founded in 2003 by Nigerian native Emmanuel (Manny) Ohonme, Samaritan’s Feet works to help alleviate human suffering by providing a message of God’s hope and love, brought home by the simple gift of shoes — something many children throughout the world have to do without.
The program began with a proclamation made by a representative of Mayor Tom Henry declaring Oct. 19, 2009 “Bishop Dwenger Samaritan’s Feet Day,” which encouraged all citizens to recognize and support the effort of the high school and the charity organization.
Ohonme was introduced and shared his personal story. He describes himself as, “one of the most blessed people on the face of the Earth,” adding, “I’ve come a long way.”
Ohonme, founder of Samaritan’s Feet, grew up in Nigeria, where, until he was 9 years old, he didn’t know the comfort and security of owning a pair of shoes. But his life was changed when at a camp in Lagos, Nigeria, a stranger from Wisconsin gave Ohonme a pair of new tennis shoes — and a message of hope.
That pair of shoes, and the message that anything was possible through God, inspired Ohonme to compete in sports. Through hard work and determination, he earned a basketball scholarship to the University of North Dakota in Lake Region. Ohonme laughingly described his first exposure to cold weather and snow to the assembly.
Ohonme enjoyed success on the basketball court, going on to graduate school and a successful career in North Carolina. However, when he returned to Nigeria in 1997, he was brought face-to-face with many children still living in the poverty and hopelessness he remembered from his own childhood. While very moved, he didn’t know what he could do, so he returned to his family and career in America.
Finally, in 2003, Ohonme could not longer, “ignore the call from God.” He left the comfort and security of his executive position to bring the vision of Samaritan’s Feet to life. Today, through his mission, Manny Ohonme is continuing the legacy of love and hope he was given when he received that pair of shoes from a good Samaritan.
Samaritan’s Feet does more than simply collect and send shoes to needy children. They make the gift personal and life-changing. With every pair of shoes, someone — Samaritan’s Feet staff, board members, volunteers or missionaries — gets on his or her knees and washes the feet of each child. Then, the children are told God loves them as new socks and shoes are placed on their feet. Over 3 million pairs of shoes have been distributed to date, touching the lives of 3 million individuals through God’s love.
At the conclusion of his comments, Ohonme challenged the students of Bishop Dwenger, saying, “What is God asking you to do?”
He reminded them that as Americans, they are in a position of power compared to many children of the world. He asked them how much more each of them could do to not only help his cause, but to end suffering throughout the world.
Bishop Dwenger Principal Fred Tone also challenged students to do more than simply give money, but to personally shop for and buy a special pair of shoes to go to a child in need, making the process of giving more personal.
The goal of Samaritan’s Feet is to give 10 million impoverished people 10 million pairs of shoes over the next 10 years. The organizations works with many high schools, colleges and professional sports organizations throughout the United States to help reach that goal.
Todd Melloh, directing of marketing for Samaritan’s Feet, says his biggest surprise in working for the organization is the number of people who want to help. “When they hear our message, people want to give back and get involved. They are multiplying our staff and bringing us closer to our goal.”
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