- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 4, 2009

The old Negro spiritual, “Gonna Shout All Over God’s Heaven,” claims that “all of God’s children got shoes.” Not all, not yet.

Rotimi Akinnuoye is trying to change that problem, wearing the soles of his shoes pretty thin as he travels the world to impoverished countries such as Malawi and Jamaica, handing out shoes for the poor and barefoot.

The Nigerian-born Mr. Akinnuoye, 40, is a pharmaceutical salesman and real estate investor who lives in Brooklyn, N.Y. His vision of a shoe-clad world was born on a mission trip to South Africa in 2007 with his church, Emmanuel Baptist Church of Brooklyn.

In Johannesburg that winter, he saw shoeless children walking, running and playing on hard, dirty pavements, according to the Web site for Global Soles, a nonprofit he founded the following year. Women also wore no shoes as they performed their daily chores, the site says.

Trodding barefoot over broken glass, trash, waste and other debris posed serious health risks that could result in infections such as gangrene and lead to amputation and even death, he said medical experts informed him.

The cold reality of South Africa’s poverty made Mr. Akinnouye shiver. He departed the continent determined to change the world one step at a time.

He established Global Soles (www.globalsoles.org) in March 2008. It solicits new footwear from individuals, groups, churches, faith-based organizations, nonprofits, fraternities and sororities, corporations, community groups and educational institutions.

“By providing shoes to underprivileged children and adults, our goal is to improve the public health, well-being, and dignity of communities worldwide,” the group’s Web site says as its mission statement.

Five months later, in August 2008, Mr. Akinnouye returned to South Africa and donated shoes to the poor villages in Johannesburg and Swaziland.

In February, Jamaica received 100 pairs of shoes, and in June, Malawi received approximately 400 pairs.

“We’ve given out more than 2,000 pairs of shoes, as well as socks and clothing, but we need more sponsorships and shoes,” Mr. Akinnouye said.

Next month, Global Soles hopes to fulfill its most ambitious effort yet - to provide 5,000 pairs of new shoes to disadvantaged youngsters and adults in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti, before the Thanksgiving holiday.

Haiti, noted for its high rates of HIV/AIDS, infant mortality, poverty, unemployment and unchecked crime, is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.

Mr. Akinnouye, president of Global Soles, selected Haiti as the organization’s fourth shoe giveaway location.

He attended a medical mission in Haiti in 2007 and saw more than 100 shoeless patients seeking treatment. He sought and received support from New York City Council member Mathieu Eugene, a physician and Haitian native, and Dr. Marcel Benoit, president of Doc Tee Time, an organization of 100 Haitian physicians, to establish Global Soles.

Though Global Soles requests donations from various sources, “it is the generosity of individual persons that has been the mainstay of the organization,” Mr. Akinnouye said.

The Golden Daughters Foundation, Hip Hop Gives Back and Haitians in Atlanta also have partnered with Global Soles to provide shoes to Haiti.

With 600 pairs already on hand, Mr. Akinnuoye said, “We’re optimistic [that] by the end of October, we will have reached our goal of 5,000 shoes.”

In the Washington area, Athena Cross, an HMO executive, is the Global Shoes liaison. Two Adams Morgan stores, Fleet Feet DC and Evolve, will serve as drop-off centers for donations. Both are in the 1800 block of Columbia Road Northwest.

A group of missionaries will travel to Port-Au-Prince and distribute shoes and other items Nov. 20 through 22. Mr. Akinnouye plans to host a fundraiser later this month where attendees will be asked to donate shoes, clothing or money.

Global Soles is requesting footwear (new only) for children and adults, including sneakers, black dress shoes, and rain and casual boots for work, school, church and play. Socks also are needed.

The Rev. Anthony L. Trufant, Mr. Akinnouye’s pastor, who accompanied him on that first trip to South Africa, said he is quite pleased with his parishioner’s project to shoe the shoeless, but is not surprised.

Mr. Akinnouye, like other young professionals, seeks personal significance rather than personal success, Mr. Trufant said.

“They have learned to become global Christian citizens,” he added. “That is, those who think and act locally, nationally, and globally.”

Global Soles is leaving a footprint throughout the world, one pair of shoes at a time.

Geraldine Washington is a freelance writer living in the District.

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