Sometimes, a pair of shoes is just a pair of shoes. Other times, it’s the first step toward a better life. Our Co-Founder Fred Yeboah, can tell you why.
Eight years ago, Fred’s wife Opokua (OP) woke him in the middle of the night and said, “We have too much. We have to do more.” Instead of rolling over and going back to sleep, Fred asked her if she had a plan. She didn’t, but together they came up with one: feeding 1,000 people on Christmas every year. They started cooking on the 24th of December and drove around Chicago on Christmas Day giving food to homeless people, but their generousity didn’t stop there.
A few years later, they took their four sons to visit their homeland of Ghana. While they enjoyed the country’s beautiful sights, they also showed them the slums and shanty towns. The boys were in shock. They saw Ghanaian children on their way to school – only half of them wearing shoes, and those with shoes had holes in them.
Growing up in Ghana, Fred had lived the reality they’d seen. He’d owned one pair of shoes, if you can really call them that. They were torn with holes in them, but it was all he had. Providing what little comfort he could find, he vividly remembers putting cardboard in the bottom to protect his feet. If that wasn’t enough, he’d been so poor that he recalls eating dirt for dinner, just so his stomach wouldn’t ache from hunger.
Seeing his homeland flooded back the memories and thus, a second idea was born: Soles of Hope. Fred and OP set out to gather as many shoes, school supplies and clothes as they could upon their return back to Chicago. They held donation drives at their respective workplaces and with an amazing turnout of generousity, they began to plan their first mission trip back.
They randomly chose a northern village, Kpandai, in the poorest area of Ghana, as the recipient of the donations. It took 12 hours to reach the village by dusty roads and a long ferry ride, but when a small boy picked up a pair of girl’s shoes and exclaimed, “Yay, I found my size!” not knowing the difference, they knew it was all worth it.
Once there, OP realized there were bigger problems in Kpandai, starting with no drinking water. Women and children walked miles every day to get fresh water from a stream and carry it back to the village. Soles of Hope set up a pipe-borne water system in the middle of town that delivers fresh water for villagers. She also learned from the school’s headmistress that there were many orphans in need of funds for the school year. She asked how much it cost to care for a child for the school year – the answer was $90. The family emptied their bank account to help support them.
On the ferry to Kpandai, the Yeboahs noticed young children working on fishing boats. They learned that the poorest families in the region are occasionally forced to sell their children into what amounts to slavery in order to feed them. “We are working on plans to rescue and rehouse these children,” says Fred.
The chief of the village asked OP why the Yeboahs were not helping people in Eastern Ghana, where they were from. OP’s answer, “Everyone has a need”.