More than 30 years ago, in Lagos, Nigeria, a nine-year-old African boy was approached by a missionary from Wisconsin with an invitation to enter a contest to win a pair of shoes. The young boy won his first pair of shoes that day, a luxury that until that moment, as is true for so many in impoverished Africa, was beyond his wildest dreams.
The winner of that competition was Emmanuel “Manny” Ohonme and he credits receiving that pair of shoes with changing his life. While Manny acknowledges how much owning his first pair of shoes meant to him, it was the words of encouragement the missionary imparted, giving him the faith to believe in himself and his dreams and to never give up that would have a lasting effect on his life.
For Manny, the missionary’s support and reassurance amounted to a “gift of hope” that motivated him to work hard to develop his talents, skills and confidence. Manny’s hard work and dreams would eventually bring him to America where he attended college on a full basketball scholarship. He earned bachelor's and master’s degrees in the fields of economics and business and began a successful career in the technology industry. A return trip to his Nigerian homeland reignited his passion for philanthropy and inspired the vision that would become Samaritan’s Feet.
Manny returned to America determined to make a difference for the children in his homeland and across the globe. With his wife, Tracie, Manny founded Samaritan’s Feet in 2003. Through this non-profit organization, Manny has seized the opportunity to share with millions of others the legacy of love and hope he received when he won his first pair of shoes so long ago.
Samaritan’s Feet: Focus and Impact
Samaritan’s Feet concentrates on giving the gift of hope through the gift of shoes, the act of washing feet and offering encouragement to individuals who need it most. The organization is founded on the belief that providing a person with a new pair of shoes and the act of foot-washing can offer a tangible foundation of hope and the opportunity for a better life. These acts of kindness can inspire children to focus on their education and the development of their unique talents so they can seek a better life, just as Manny did.
Some may question the focus of charitable endeavors on shoes and foot hygiene. The fact is, this is important work: 1.5 billion people are infected with foot-borne diseases that could be prevented if shoes are worn. Here in the United States, shoes are the fifth most needed item by students. The promotion of proper foot care and shoe wear decreases the possibility of getting a foot-borne disease.
A donation of just $20 gives someone the gift of a pair of shoes and a life-changing message of hope. Ninety percent of the organization’s expenses go directly to that mission. Since 2003, Samaritan’s Feet and its partners have distributed over seven million pairs of shoes in 108 countries and 395 U.S. cities.
Manny Ohonme’s Legacy
Today, Manny has earned recognition as an established businessman, philanthropist and author of the book, Sole Purpose. Manny is also in demand as a popular inspirational speaker and storyteller. Although he has achieved success on multiple levels, he is clear on what he wishes to be remembered for:
“Our legacy should be created based on what we do for others, not on how much money we make or how many material things we acquire. We will never know the impact of the ripple effect of our actions and obedience if we sit on the sidelines as spectators.”
Samaritan’s Feet is celebrating its 17th anniversary on May 5, with a Cinco de Mayo themed virtual celebration on Zoom.
Operations During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Despite the pandemic, Samaritan’s Feet has been able to continue its mission, shipping out shoes to points around the world: 170,000 pairs have been sent out as of late April 2020 even though the organization is being staffed with fewer warehouse employees, as they implement social distancing safety protocols.
Charlotte is home to Samaritan’s Feet International’s Worldwide Headquarters. To help recipients cope with the stress and trauma of the COVID-19 pandemic, Samaritan’s Feet is sending 'Hope Notes' with each pair of shoes. In light of how important the words of the ‘Good Samaritan’ missionary uttered to young Manny proved to be in shaping his life, we are asking our readers to visit the organization’s website and send a ‘Hope Note' of encouragement and support to those in need around the world during this pandemic.
To send your ‘Hope Note’ and learn how you can help inspire optimism and confidence in children by providing them shoes as a foundation to building a spiritual and healthy life, visit SamaritansFeet.org or call 980.939.8150 today.