May 12, 2011
Months before his plan became a reality, UA Track and Field student-athlete, Mohamud Ige, had an idea. He wanted to collect shoes to give to people back home. Unlike many of his fellow teammates, for Ige, home was a lot further than a drive or quick flight.
A native of Somalia, Ige moved to the U.S. when he was in elementary school. His journey from his homeland was not an easy one. The decision to leave Somalia was a result of a political conflict in the country. In the midst of the civil war, Ige's father died when he was just two years old. Ige, his mother and two brothers were left to fend for themselves. The family fled the country to find a safe haven in another country. "[We] went from town to town, bus ride to bus ride, and finally arrived in a refugee camp in Mombasa, Kenya," said Ige.
It was in Mombasa that the family settled in a refugee camp for six years while his mom worked hard to try to maintain some sort of income to care for the family. After those six years, Ige found out that he had the opportunity, an opportunity he describes as, "a ticket of hope," to a new life in America.
After establishing a new life in America, Ige decided it would be the perfect opportunity to give back to the place where he once lived in a refugee camp. In August of 2010, Ige started talking to friends and acquaintances about his plan. Throughout these discussions he came to find that many people had extra shoes that they did not want or need any longer. In many cases, these shoes were in great condition and would be put to good use by Kenyan children to whom shoes are a luxury.
Even before he had fully formulated a plan, Ige knew he would accomplish his goal. "You just have to have faith," he said.
Not to say there weren't many obstacles that stood in his way. Ige had to figure out how to physically get the shoes to Kenya on limited financial means. Originally, Ige looked at using a shipping company to transport the shoes overseas. However, cost became an issue and there was no guarantee that the shoes would be waiting for him once he arrived in Kenya himself. After evaluating many different options it looked like the best option was to check as many pairs of shoe in his luggage as possible and hope for the best. There was still concern that customs would take the shoes or that once he entered the country that local officials would be suspicious of his intentions and confiscate the goods, but Mohamud had a feeling things would work out.
In October, Ige purchased his ticket so there was no turning back. He continued to collect shoes while simultaneously trying to figure out how to get them to his destination.
However, his confidence never wavered. Ige, who only wanted to help people less fortunate than himself, was confident that everything would work out as long as he had faith. His strong belief that the project would turn out for the best prevailed. Coincidentally, Ige was able to get in touch with friends of his teammates who were also going to Africa at the same time. They wanted to help with the project and were able to take some of the shoes as a part of their baggage allotment.
By the time he was ready to depart, he had collected more than 140 pairs of shoes. Ige first flew to Nairobi, the capital of Kenya. He spent a few days in the capital and then moved to Mombasa, on the eastern coast of Africa, where he distributed half of his shoes.
"The thing that struck me the most was the living conditions and how rough it was, but still, every person had a smile on their face," said Ige. He went on to explain that he was impacted by the humbleness of the people he met. He learned from the people he encountered along the way. "It's just life, you just have to live it, it's tough but they don't complain."
Ige did not have an agenda and was not punching a clock, he just spent however much time that he felt like he needed to spend in a given location and trusted that he would accomplish his goals.
"I had to understand that it was their country and I had to do things their way. I went with the flow and it worked out perfectly."
His last stop was Eldoret in the western part of the country where he completed the shoe distribution. In each location he visited various orphanages to distribute shoes to kids in need.
In addition to passing out shoes, Ige also spent time enjoying the country and submersing himself in its culture. His goal was to experience the country just as a Kenyan would. Because he left the country at such a young age, he was able to experience and appreciate Kenya in an entirely new manner. He continued training while he was there. "There was a time I was running and kids would come up and run with me. It was awesome. I didn't know what to do first, give them shoes or get video of the amazing experience running with these kids."
The experience was a life-changing one for Ige. He hopes to go back in the future or to do something even bigger. "Hopefully I can make the shoe collection bigger, and all over the world, not just in Kenya. It will take time, we'll see where it goes," said Ige of his future intentions. In the meantime, he hopes to share his experience with others to retell his incredible encounters along the way.
And as for the shoes, Mohamud set out to Kenya with more than 140 pairs of shoes and he barely returned with one. In his excitement of making kids happy, Mohamud even gave away his own shoes and came back with one pair of flip flops.
Mohamud will graduate in just a few days and has big plans for the future. "I will be the first generation of my entire family line to attend university and graduate. With the success of my running, I plan on continuing with it after college and bridge cultural divides with it along the way. It really takes the right character and hope to develop the unthinkable, and that is what I plan on doing in the future and I owe it all to my mom."