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Friday, January 25, 2008

Basketball coach goes barefoot to provide shoes for the shoeless in Africa

By Michael Ireland
Chief Correspondent, ASSIST News Service

INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA (ANS) -- A staggering 110,000 pairs of shoes have so far been donated to Samaritan's Feet, a nonprofit, Christian-based charity that seeks to put shoes on 10 million people throughout the world over a 10-year span.

Overwhelmed: IUPUI's Ron Hunter, surrounded by fans, shows a few of the thousands of shoes donated to Samaritan's Feet.-- Rob Goebel / The Star

Ron Hunter, Head Basketball Coach at IUPUI (Indiana University, Purdue University at Indianapolis) recently had the privilege of meeting Emmanuel (Manny) Ohonme, the founder of Samaritanís Feet.

Four years ago, Manny left a lucrative marketing and supply chain job to start Samaritanís Feet (  ), a 501 c3 organization whose goal is to put 10 million pairs of shoes on childrenís feet in 10 years around the world.

According to the outreach's dedicated website, Manny is originally from Nigeria and grew up very poor. He received his first pair of shoes at the age of 9 from a missionary, who also taught him how to play basketball. These shoes allowed him to run and play without getting hurt and helped him get better at sports, specifically basketball.

He started playing travel basketball during his childhood and eventually played high school basketball in Nigeria. God blessed him with the ability to play basketball at a high level and eventually earned a scholarship to play at the University of North Dakota -- Lake Region.

While in school, Manny earned his bachelors and masters degrees. He had a chance to play basketball overseas, but he turned it down to concentrate on his education. After graduation, he spent ten years in the logistics business until God called him to fulfill His plan for his life.

Samaritanís Feet was formed in 2003 and four years later over 500,000 pairs of shoes have been donated. I am excited about what Manny is doing around the world.

Coach Hunter was so moved by Manny's story that, after much thought and prayer, he decided to coach in his bare feet for the IUPUI basketball game on January 24th against Oakland.

Why would he do this?

Hunter said: "Dr. Martin Luther King Day is January 21, 2008. Therefore, in recognition of what Dr. King did for our country, I want to honor his life by standing for the children around the world who donít have a voice. I have always looked up to Dr. Martin Luther King and what he stood for. 2008 is the 40th anniversary of his death. I want to honor the late Dr. King by raising 40,000 pairs of shoes for children throughout the world. There are hundreds of millions of children who donít have shoes. They suffer from diseases, infection and many other ailments because they donít have shoes to wear. Needless to say, they canít play sports without shoes. We have been given an incredible opportunity and platform as coaches to use our status as role models for others and help children in need."

Hunter added: "I am asking you to join me to accomplish the task of putting 40,000 pairs of shoes on childrenís feet. Give the children hope in our country and around the world by displaying courage in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King. He had courage, I know you do too."

According to , the internet presence of the Indianapolis Star newspaper, coach Hunter got his game victory, his pedicure and, as a bonus, more athletic shoes than he'll ever be able to carry to Africa in July. All on bare feet.

Hunter completed one of the most inspirational walks in this year's college basketball season by coaching Thursday night's game shoeless for children of impoverished homes.

An announced crowd of 1,059 were on hand at IUPUI Gymnasium for the 82-69 victory over Oakland and only a few of them went barefoot, but significantly more nationwide recognized Hunter's effort, the newspaper reported.

IUPUI announced that the Department of Homeland Security, which offered 10,000 pairs, told Samaritan's Feet to hang loose while officials determine how many more shoes they can donate.

Hunter, who appeared on ESPN's top morning shows Thursday and was featured as ABC's Person of the Week Friday on "World News Tonight," was humbled by the response. His goal was 40,000 pairs of shoes, a figure symbolic of the 40th anniversary of the death of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He had that many by lunch.

The newspaper reported that Soles4Souls, a Nashville, Tennessee-based charity, donated 40,000 pairs. Wal-Mart gave 25,000; Nine West, a women's shoe company, offered another 5,200. During Hunter's appearance on ESPN Radio's "Mike & Mike in the Morning" show, a Converse representative joined the program and promised another 15,000.

Most were directly shipped to Charlotte, N.C., where Samaritan's Feet is based. Hunter's office took all it could hold, becoming an impromptu warehouse. An estimated 500 pairs arrived at the gym prior to the game.
At one point in the afternoon, Hunter looked up to find 20 bags of shoes dropped off. They came without a name, just a note that read, "Coach, hope this helps."

"When we started this I thought 40,000 was going to be tough," Hunter said. "When they told me before the game we already had 100,000, honestly, I almost broke down in tears." And, at that moment, he cried.

"Imagine if every coach would pick a game to coach barefoot and use their influence," said Emmanuel 'Manny' Ohonme, a Nigerian who founded the charity four years ago. "We'd exceed our goals pretty quickly.

"And we're getting e-mails every couple of minutes from people who want more information or to say they just bought a pair," he said. "Plus, there's all these high school coaches around the country who say they want to coach a game barefoot."

The newspaper noted for the record, Hunter's exposed feet weren't stepped on during the game and commented: "It bears noting that he almost never sits down when the action -- and the feet -- are flowing."

"My feet hurt so bad," he said after the game. "But imagine a child or a human going their whole lives without shoes."

Hunter, 43, said his month-long association with Samaritan's Feet has already affected him, and he knows it could be on the verge of changing the lives of others, the newspaper said.

Several of his players have vowed to join him on the summer trip, which he'd like to take to Cameroon, home to Jaguars freshman guard Christian Siakam.

In Siakam's family, shoes are a luxury; not everyone has them.

Now, a man with no ties to IUPUI has offered to charter a jet to fly the team to Africa, pending NCAA approval, of course.

"I knew when I saw Siakam's face we were doing the right thing," Hunter said.

If you are interested in supporting Coach Hunter's cause, please contact him at  or Samaritanís Feet Marketing Director, Todd Melloh at 317-417-3525 or . To donate, log-on to  or call (866)833-SHOE.

** Michael Ireland, Chief Correspondent of ANS, is an international British freelance journalist who was formerly a reporter with a London newspaper and has been a frequent contributor to UCB Europe, a British Christian radio station. Michael's involvement with ASSIST News Service is a sponsored ministry department -- Michael Ireland Media Missionary (MIMM) -- of ACT International at: Artists in Christian Testimony (ACT) International. His weblog appears at: Michael Ireland Media Missionary.

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