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Young Charlotte-area Shoe Ambassadors in South Africa

Samaritan's Feet Founder and President Manny Ohonme. hspace=2
Samaritan's Feet Founder and President Manny Ohonme. hspace=2

The Samaritan's Feet warehouse near uptown Charlotte is buzzing with young students and other volunteers. They're busy packing 2,500 brand new pairs of Vans, Converse, FILA and other sneakers. The group is taking them to needy children in Cape Town, South Africa. The shoes are laced together and a pair of socks is slipped in. Eighth-grader Neah Hubbard has just filled a canvas sack with shoes ready to go. She's eager for the two-week visit. "I expect I will be a changed person and not take things and not be so greedy with what I get, with different things I'm able to have," she says. "I think I'm starting to listen to my mom more and starting to take what she says into consideration. And just being happy that I have what I have because some other people don't have it." Hubbard originally thought her first trip outside of the country would be like a vacation. But she quickly learned it was going to take a lot of work. Another eighth-grader, Blair Langford says they'll have an hour of studies, plus homework time, and visits to numerous schools. "Different days we're going to be giving out shoes and washing people's feet. But other days we're going to schools and orphanages," explains Langford. I ask, "Have you ever washed someone else's feet and given them shoes?" "We actually did a 'Wow Jam' this summer which was kind of in preparation for this, where we washed people's feet and gave them shoes. That was the first time I'd ever done anything like it," says Langford. "I was just thinking we we're going to be helping this person and they're so blessed and grateful that we're giving them these shoes when they didn't have it before. So I think it was really a gift for me to be helping someone like that. And it was kind of life-changing for me." Samaritan's Feet is a Christian humanitarian organization. The act of washing another's feet has biblical roots. On the night of the Last Supper, Jesus washed the feet of his disciples and told them to do the same for each other. The organization believes washing someone else's feet is one of the most humbling ways to serve. Samaritan's Feet Founder and President Manny Ohonme wants the organization's missions to evoke this kind of selflessness. "See how the people over there live and their culture. How that correlates to how people live in this country. And then really, to see how blessed that they really are, to see that even they can make an impact- change this world for others. So that's really what our goal is," he says. Ohonme grew up poor in Nigeria and says he got his start in life after a missionary gave him a pair of sneakers and taught him basketball. He got a basketball scholarship to the University of North Dakota. Ohonme says, "And because of that simple act of generosity and that compassion and the fact that I was living a hopeless life and the spotlight was shined and inspired me to go to school, and stay in school- because that was the key that would unlock opportunities for me. That was what made me who I am today." Ohonme gave up basketball to study food technology and delivery to help feed impoverished African nations. That led to a masters degree and landed him in a technology executive position in Charlotte. He gave it up five years ago to start Samaritan's Feet. Samaritan's Feet's Young Ambassador Program is funded through the United Way.