A senior at an Atlanta private school has joined forces with an Army doctor from Atlanta now serving in Afghanistan on a project aimed at giving shoes to hundreds or even thousands of children and adults in that war-torn country.
Robert Moore, 17, of Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School, is heading the effort in Atlanta, and Dr. Kenneth L. Wilson, a lieutenant colonel who, when not in service, is chief of trauma at Atlanta’s Morehouse School of Medicine, is in charge at the front.
Moore is campaigning to get people to donate new and lightly-worn shoes, and asking shoe stores and other businesses to kick in. Hundreds of shoes have been shipped so far, but Moore said more are needed.
Moore has collected shoes before, but said demand can never be met. He plans to continue his campaign for at least several more months. The shoes, new or used, are packed in boxes, with shipping paid with donations.
“I have a lot of friends who just bring old running shoes, or soccer teams giving their shoes,” he said. “We get shoes from adults. My mom helps me clean them before we ship and we get any smell out of them. It’s a long process but it’s the least we can do.”
His mother, Johnetta Holcombe, an official in one of Emory’s AIDS-fighting projects, said she can’t explain why her son goes to so much trouble, though he says it was her positive influence, as well as support from school officials and Wilson’s zeal.
“His goal is to get up to 1,000 pairs,” she said. “He works incredibly hard.”
So does Wilson, who said shoes are badly needed in the rough terrain of Afghanistan.
“When it rains there it is like trying to walk in grout,” he said in an interview from his quarters near the Afghan-Pakistan border. “So the tennis shoes for the kids are extremely practical. I term the whole giving as medical warfare.”
He says the donated shoes work better than weapons in winning over the good will of Afghans.
“The culture here is as much about gratitude and asylum as it is about revenge,” he said. “It is impossible in the Pashtun culture to lob rockets at the people who just gave you shoes. In a way, I believe shoes saved some lives on the battlefield.”
He said the teenager has helped bring “some civility to a war-torn part of the country.”
Chris Pomar, an assistant headmaster at Holy Innocents and Wilson were friends while attending Emory University.
Pomar said Wilson “was always one of the nicest, kindest and most generous people you could meet. He’s been to Iraq twice and is in Afghanistan now the second time.”
Before his most recent deployment, Wilson visited Holy Innocents, inspiring students, staff and parents.
“He spoke about what it means to be a patriot,” Pomar said. “Helping by giving shoes is certainly patriotic.”
How to help
Shoes can be dropped off at Holy Innocents, 805 Mt. Vernon Highway, N.W., Atlanta.
For more information, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.