Pajama Press

Posts Tagged ‘aid’

My Beautiful Birds Extended Author’s Note

Posted on August 31st, 2016 by pajamapress

Suzanne Del Rizzo, author and illustrator of My Beautiful Birds, writes:

S.DelRizzo.websiteWith the increased news coverage about the Syrian conflict, young readers may have questions and feel distressed. Approaching the subject in an age-appropriate way to ensure they feel safe can often be difficult. Here are some website resources which feature information on the Syrian conflict and other displacement stories to begin the conversation.

This site has original news articles on today’s current events, such as the Syrian crisis, written for a school aged audience (grades 2-8).

Amnesty International

Amnesty International has compiled a list of educational resources that explain the rights of refugees.

United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR)

This website offers classroom resources and an interactive online game “Against All Odds” which “lets you experience what it is like to be a refugee”.

In fact, while I was researching child-friendly resources to use myself to discuss this crisis with my own children, I came across a short UNICEF article, written by Krystel Abimeri, about a boy who fled to the Za’atari refugee camp with his family, and began an incredible friendship with an assortment of wild birds. This article inspired me to create My Beautiful Birds.

Za’atari, Jordan’s largest refugee camp, has grown rapidly from a few hundred tents into a massive network of tents and self-renovated structures with public services like schools, mosques, stores, and medical buildings, making it more like a city than a camp. Now, structured activities such as therapeutic art workshops, mural painting, and sports are offered by various organizations. Volunteers engage youth to reintroduce play and ignite their self-expression to release the trauma of war. Many residents have set up small shops such as barbershops, falafael stands, clothing/household goods stores (even a wedding-dress shop), and pizza delivery, along the main street nicknamed the Champs-Elysee. Although the distribution of these services and shops is not ideal due to the quick growth of the camp, the trade and public services access helps make this semi-permanent living situation feel more like home.

More info on life in Za’atari camp:

Za’atari’s own twitter feed with tweets by the UNHCR

The Lived Zaatari Project

How can we help?

There are many Canadian and international aid agencies providing emergency assistance, supplies and resources:

The United Nations Refugee Agency

The Canadian Red Cross actively supports SARC (Syrian Arab Red Crescent) working on the frontline across Syria to provide food, life-saving health services, and household items to people in need.

UNICEF distributes clean water, vaccines, education, psychosocial support, winter supplies, and protection to refugee children and families in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, European countries, and those actively fleeing Syria.

Canada’s Response to the Refugee Crisis

Canada has welcomed over 25,000 Syrian refugees though government and private sponsorship. As of April 2016, Canadians generously donated a total of $31.8 million to charitable organizations in response to the conflict in Syria, which the Government of Canada will match through the Syria Emergency Relief Fund.


Interview with Samaritan’s Feet

Posted on January 4th, 2013 by pajamapress

Kato, the main character in Alma Fullerton and Karen Patkau’s new picture book A Good Trade, is overwhelmed with gratitude when he receives a pair of shoes. Did you ever wonder why? What makes a pair of shoes so exciting? To answer that question, we’re interviewing representatives from organizations that have devoted themselves to shoes, kids, and changing lives. Today our featured organization is Samaritan’s Feet and our interviewee is Dr. Emmanuel “Manny” Ohonme, its founder.

What inspired you to start bringing shoes to kids in need?

Well, I’m the product of someone else’s generosity. I grew up in an underprivileged country myself; I grew up in Nigeria where people that lived in my neighborhood were living on less than a dollar a day, and shoes were a luxury.

We’ve also learned that over half the population of the world can’t afford shoes, and our conservative estimate is that over 300 million children across Africa and in different parts of the world wake up each day with no shoes. Further research showed that close to a million people worldwide are affected by sole-transmitted parasites. Many of them lead to different forms of infection. Some of them actually lead to death or amputation of feet.

And on top of that we learned that kids in different parts of the world can’t go to school because they have no shoes, and we felt like that was something that was unacceptable. We felt like that we should be able to solve that problem. So we set out with the really audacious goal to go see if we can at least inspire hope and hearts and reach the first ten million [pairs of shoes], and see where that takes us.

That journey started in 2003 and today we’ve helped over 4 million kids worldwide.

Where do your shoes come from?

Our shoes come from a lot of individuals. We only give children new shoes. 98 % of our shoes are tennis shoes and then the other couple of percent are school shoes that are more sandals or Croc-style EPA foam type of shoes. We get them donated through corporations, so we’ve had partners from Nike through Converse, to Sketchers, to Sears and K-mart and Wal-Mart, and different shoe companies are very generous in helping.

Many corporations sponsor shoe drives for us—either physical shoe drives or virtual shoe drives. Those virtual shoe drives allow us to raise funds so we can also procure shoes. We also manufacture shoes so that we can better forecast our needs in terms of gender or size mixes. That’s really grown quite significantly over the last few years with the economy the way it’s been; we haven’t been able to get as many shoe donations as we used to in years past, so now as part of our self-sustaining strategy, we ask many people to actually do virtual shoe drives for us and then those funds are used to manufacture shoes with our branded logo on them, or to purchase shoes from some of our suppliers.

Where do your shoes go?

Over 40% of our recipients are across North America. People always think that most of our recipients and customers are actually in the developing world, but we’ve found over the last four and a half years there’s been a huge increase in demand in North America. We’ve seen families having to make decisions every day: Do I pay the light bill, or buy groceries, or provide shoes for my kids to go to school? We’ve seen many families lose their jobs, so we started our Back to School national program, which this year helped over 50, 000 children.

We help children in over 86 communities across the US and then in parts all across East, West, South and even Central and Northern Africa, and into Eastern Europe, across the Caribbean, and in the Middle East. We span the globe. We’ve worked in over—I think it was 65 countries as of the last count.

Some people worry that an influx of donated shoes can disrupt local businesses and economies. Do you have any measures in place to protect or encourage sustainable economies in the places you work?

Absolutely. In Brazil, for example, all of our shoes are actually manufactured and produced within Brazil. We want a lot of our international locations to be self-sustaining. We want to make sure that the countries support their own, even if there’s such a dichotomy between the Haves and the Have-Nots. The Haves can help provide support to help meet the need of a lot of underprivileged people. We’ve helped blaze a trail and challenged a lot of the well-to-do people to help support them—because a lot of them just don’t know that there’s a need for shoes until we help open their eyes to the realities of people that are suffering because they don’t have any. And we’ve seen that be very successful.

In other parts of the developing world, places where we serve in remote, underprivileged communities, many of those people don’t even have stores, so there’s not even an option of being able to disrupt an economy that doesn’t exist. The other thing that we’re doing is really trying to create jobs. We’re looking for opportunities to actually start making and procuring shoes where they are in some of those local economies. We’ve been doing that quite a bit.

Do you have a favorite story or experience from you work with Samaritan’s Feet that you would like to share?

There are tons of stories. In the Amazon region of Brazil, where we’ve done work for many, many years, we went to this community on the other side of Igarape Mirim. Beyond that is a town called Boi Jadin—it’s actually a fishing community—where many of the folks still trade and barter. The kids have to have at least the equivalent of flip-flops to wear to school. Shoes are part of their uniform, and one of the families when we got into the town—we found out later on the father was praying that he’d have enough of an opportunity to trade enough so he could have the money to be able to buy flip-flops for his four children to go to school that year.

We walked into town, working through their local education program, and provided all of them brand new tennis shoes. And it was amazing—this father was just crying. They brought him to me and we talked to him, and he said, “You won’t believe this—I was just praying that I would actually have enough resources that I could sell enough fish that I could provide my children with flip-flops. And to be able to see my kids get up from the seats out there”—our volunteers wash their feet and put shoes on them and provide them with new socks and a new backpack—“and to see them wear Nike shoes, it seems like they’re walking out with a car.” He said he was watching a miracle happen in front of him. And to me that day that just struck me. Who would ever think that shoes would ever be compared in the same category as a need similar to a car? But to that fisherman that day it was like we’d given his family a Mercedes Benz. 

And to me it just reminded me why what we do matters. When we see the faces of these children lining up to receive something that they never thought they could have in their lives… We know we’ve given them good shoes, but the shoes serve as a vehicle for works of affirmation. They encourage children to believe in their dreams, and we’ve seen this come to fruition.

What is your organization’s vision for the future?

We are on a mission to help create awareness, because when we started nobody knew that footwear could be a humanitarian response and meet a real physical need. People didn’t know that people in places like Ethiopia and Burkina Faso, Peru, and Colombia, places like Cameroon, Burundi, and Uganda, are suffering from this condition called Podoconiosis. It’s a non-filarial type of elephantiasis. People didn’t know that people were suffering from this kind of condition because they have no shoes. They didn’t know that over a billion people in the world are affected by ringworms and hookworms that come in through their feet. People didn’t know that in northern Nigeria where I’m from, 40% of school-aged kids suffer from schistosomiasis [a disease caused by parasitic worms that can permanently damage internal organs].

I truly believe we’ve helped create awareness to the need for shoes. I know we’re going to reach our goal of ten million and I think after we do, we’re going to continue with one of the things that we already started doing as part of our sister organization we formed a couple of years ago, the Women Ambassador program. Beyond providing the shoes for kids to go to school, we’re actually in the process of building schools.

We built a school in the Amazon region of Brazil a few years back and now we’re trying to build a school in Burundi. We’ve teamed up with the President and the First Lady of that country. Their vision is to provide access to education to a lot of underprivileged children. During the civil war in that country they had over 300, 000 people assassinated in the genocide and over a million people displaced as refugees. Many people have come back now and education is one of the keys they’re using to unify them. The President has built over 2700 schools so we’ve committed to help keep building schools through our Women Ambassador division. We’re looking at building our first one next year and adding other ones to it as we see that grow.

We see ourselves manufacturing shoes in developing countries so we can create job opportunities for a lot of the underserved, underprivileged people, and so we can also show them that they don’t have to be dependent on the shoes coming from China—they have the resources to make their own shoes and meet their own needs locally. And we’ve started some other social enterprises and we see that growing.

At the end of the day, I think we’ve created a movement now. We have other organizations now helping to respond to the need for shoes. I was telling some of my colleagues in the nonprofit industry just a few weeks back when I was speaking at a conference, I think we should set a higher goal. You know, 300 million kids wake up each day with no shoes. I think that needs to be our goal collectively—that we can all come together and eradicate it, because that’s a problem that can be solved. No child should ever have to die because they have no shoes. No child should ever not go to school because they have no shoes. So I’m taking that as a personal challenge.

Dr. Emmanuel “Manny” Ohonme is the president and CEO of Samaritan’s Feet, which he founded in May, 2003. 

This interview has been edited for length.

To learn more about Samaritan’s Feet, visit

Interview with Soles4Souls

Posted on November 26th, 2012 by pajamapress

Kato, the main character in Alma Fullerton and Karen Patkau’s new picture book A Good Trade, is overwhelmed with gratitude when he receives a pair of shoes. Did you ever wonder why? What makes a pair of shoes so exciting? To answer that question, we’re interviewing representatives from organizations that have devoted themselves to shoes, kids, and changing lives. Today our featured organization is Soles4Souls.

Soles4Souls first sent shoes to those in need when our founder, Wayne Elsey, saw the aftermath of the 2004 Asian tsunami. He was a footwear executive and pulled his resources and contacts together to send shoes to the victims. He did the same during Hurricane Katrina—this led him to start the charity!

Where do your shoes come from?

Our shoes come from our incredible donors. Our used shoes come from individuals and their workplaces, schools, churches, town community centers and more. In addition, we have a team that works directly with shoe designers, manufacturers, retailers, distributors and warehouses to procure their excess inventory.

Where do they go?

Our shoes go everywhere! We distribute here in the United States and in 127 other countries around the world. We only send new shoes to locations in the United States, while we distribute both new and used product internationally. Some of our used inventory is utilized for micro businesses purposes to help eradicate poverty in third world countries.

Some people worry that an influx of donated shoes can disrupt local businesses and economies. Do you have any measures in place to protect or encourage sustainable economies in the places where you work?

We sure do! When we travel internationally to distribute shoes, we give them to orphanages and schools. These are people who could otherwise not afford a pair of shoes and who could contract diseases from not wearing shoes. We also work with micro enterprise partners to offer shoes as a means of a sustainable income. Our micro-enterprise program does not interfere, but enhances the local economy and provides long-term sustainability for women and men in developing nations.

Do you have a favorite story or experience from you work with Soles4Souls that you would like to share?

Yeah! I have the pleasure of hearing the stories from some of our top donors and sharing them on our blog. One of my favorites is of a little girl in Canada who collected shoes for us. She made a video invitation to her birthday party and asked friends and family to bring her shoes to give to kids in need, rather than buying her a gift. It’s inspiring to see someone as young as seven years old making a difference in the world!

What is your organization’s vision for the future?

There are approximately 1.5 billion people in the world without shoes and 300 million of them are children. Our vision and goal is to drastically lower that number.

Rebecca Cicione is a Social Media Engagement Specialist with Soles4Souls. She has been working with the organization since September, 2011.

To learn more about Soles4Souls, visit

Sal’s Fiction Addiction reviews A Good Trade

Posted on November 20th, 2012 by pajamapress

The author uses clear prose and descriptive language to make the reader aware of the life that Kato lives. We hear the silence of the early morning, see the soldiers as they stand guard, feel the sloshing of the water on Kato’s bare, dusty toes, catch our breath with him as he hauls the water home and must stop to rest, and smile as he and the aid worker make their ‘good trade’.

Karen Patkau creates a setting that allows a glimpse at Kato’s life and his village, the bright and happy colors that the children wear (including their new shoes) and the muted landscape he travels over daily. Each page captures our attention and begs for discussion.

Click here to read the full review.