WCU students take their role in Samaritan’s Feet mission to South Africa

Western Carolina University’s ongoing collaboration with Samaritan’s Feet, a humanitarian group dedicated to distributing shoes to impoverished communities around the world, recently took five students to South Africa for a first-hand service-learning experience.

The trip to Cape Town and surrounding villages was led by Lane Perry, director of WCU’s Center for Service Learning, for 12 days in June.  While there, the group – WCU students Josh Vance, Raven Mathis, Cierra Alley, Michelle Powers and Dele Ohonme – met with local organizations and businesses that focus on community improvement, as well as distributed shoes, resources and messages of hope to impoverished children.

Africa is the focus of the university’s two-year interdisciplinary academic learning theme and part of a continuing assistance effort. A partnership with Samaritan’s Feet was established last year. In April, the university hosted a “Barefoot Games” on campus to raise awareness and funds for Samaritan’s Feet, with some proceeds from that event used to provide some of the shoes given on this trip.

Dele Ohonme with a young girl in the town of Grabouw in the mountain region of South Africa.

Dele Ohonme with a young girl in the town of Grabouw in the mountain region of South Africa.

Mathis recalls packing for the trip and trying to determine how many shoes to take and what colors of clothing to include. “The irony of that struck me so hard,” she said. “Here I was about to travel halfway across the world to give shoes to children who didn’t have any, and yet there I was wondering what I should bring…. But being there with those children and interacting with them was beyond life-changing. When we would step off our van the kids would come running and they were so excited to see us, but little did they know we were more excited to see them. Seeing how happy they were with what little they had brought tears to my eyes on more than one occasion. I still think of these kids and stories I’ve heard about their lives on a daily basis.”

Perry said an unexpected highlight for the group was getting to meet Cornal Hendricks, a star South African rugby player. “He’s a celebrity there with many, many fans and quite a status,” Perry said. “He’s started a youth foundation and is recognized for being more than a star athlete. And he worked with us as we made nearly 400 shoe gifts. He was so energetic and such an ambassador. That was a great interaction and inspiration. By the end, my face hurt from smiling so much and my heart was humbled from serving.”

Those sentiments were shared by Vance, who has been involved in many Samaritan’s Feet projects. “Having the chance to serve alongside Cornal Hendricks was amazing,” he said. “There is a bond that is created among a group that spends hours on end serving and growing together. I am so proud to have met him and see all that he does for his community. We will definitely be cheering for him during the Olympics.”

Ohonme is the daughter of Tracie and Manny Ohonme, founders of Samaritan’s Feet, and as such is a veteran of mission trips. But this one was special, she said, because of being with fellow WCU students. “You believe by giving someone shoes that you, somehow, are giving the bigger blessing, so to speak,” she said. “When, in fact, it is you who receives the biggest blessing, as you experience the joy of helping others.

“For the future, I would love to be able to have more of my fellow students become more service-minded and involved with any type of community opportunity we have in Cullowhee and the surrounding area,” Ohonme said. “I love that our school is known for its community impact and service leadership.”

To learn more, contact Perry at laneperry@wcu.edu or 828-227-2643.