Emmanuel “Manny” Ohonme
The 2021 Pontifical Hero Award for Inspiration
by providing hope to millions of children around the world
The adage “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes” is a reminder to be empathetic and compassionate. Still, there are few who manage to truly grasp the full nature of that statement. One of those people is Emmanuel “Manny” Ohonme, who realized that simply giving someone a pair of shoes can propel them towards a better life.
Ohonme is the founder and CEO of Samaritan’s Feet International, a nonprofit organization that has distributed over 8 million pairs of shoes to children in 108 countries and 435 American cities. Samaritan’s Feet also addresses the pressing problem of hygiene in an attempt to diminish the impact of soil-borne diseases. While they’re often overlooked, shoes can be the difference between injury and health. Shoes can prevent fungal infections or injuries. Children need shoes to attend school and play outside without fear of injury. As Ohonme experienced himself, shoes open a window to the world.
At nine years old, Ohonme sold water and soft drinks to athletes at a local basketball court in his hometown of Lagos, Nigeria. It was a side income to help supplement finances at home where his family lived on a dollar a day. Still, Ohonme longed to play alongside the other children. One day, Ohonme got his chance and participated in a shooting competition organized by a local missionary. He sunk his shot, and with it, won his first pair of size 10 tennis shoes.
In that moment, Ohonme wanted to “take off running.” He hasn’t stopped running since that day.
Those shoes set him on a journey that would take him to the United States on a basketball scholarship, where he earned both bachelor’s and master’s degrees. But Ohonme never forgot what happened on that basketball court. When he returned to Nigeria for his father’s funeral, he saw a child on that same court, without shoes. In that moment, Samaritan’s Feet was born.
It was a small operation at first, but under Ohome’s guidance it grew expansively. By 2008, he had inspired college basketball coaches to go barefoot on gameday, an event that resulted in the donation of 100,000 shoes to children in need. By 2012, some 5 million children had received shoes thanks to Ohonme’s creativity and vision.
Ohonme’s first pair of shoes may have been several sizes too large for a nine-year-old, but he has since grown to fill them. Ohonme’s passionate work and inspirational story have ensured that millions of children around the world can lead more happy, healthy, and productive lives.
For providing hope to millions of children around the world, we award Emmanuel “Manny” Ohonme the 2021 Pontifical Hero Award for Inspiration.