Cupertino teen helps put shoes on the feet of poor children in Africa
A few polite inquiries from Cupertino resident Shawn Esmaili put shoes on the feet of poor children in Tanzania.
Esmaili, 18, a junior at Saint Francis High School, was recently honored by K2 Adventures Foundation for his work in donating hundreds of shoes to poor children in the African nation. He received the foundation's first junior humanitarian award in 22 years.
Esmaili worked with K2 to get shoes sent to an orphanage in Tanzania that cares for roughly 600 children struggling with blindness. He said he was surprised to learn that the soil competition causes children to suffer from foot fungus, which cause their feet and even stomachs to swell.
"They said they needed shoes really badly. This is the only thing they wanted," he said. "I had no idea just how much these shoes would impact their lives."
Esmaili contacted major shoe companies such as Reebok, Puma, Converse, Adidas and Vans. Over a period of three months last year, he secured more than 700 pairs of shoes.
Esmaili said he was surprised that a few inquiries to the shoe companies would result in such positive feedback.
"I never would have expected to get so much support from these organizations. That was the really surprising part," he said. "I have them to thank for all of this. If it wasn't for their generosity, it would not have happened."
Esmaili's philanthropic ways began when he was 12 years old and traveling in Iran. He visited an orphanage for gifted and talented middle school-age children and heard their life stories. He said he was inspired to help poor children immediately after chatting with some of the orphans.
"I realized how fortunate I was, how much I had and how much they did not have," he said. "These kids were very bright; they were first or second in their class. This is when I found that this is what I want to do. This is the day I changed my life."
Last summer, Esmaili was in Haiti with Global Family Philanthropy, and it was there that he made connections with K2. The 10-day trip was an eye-opener for him, and he has since been continuing aid efforts for the earthquake-ravaged nation.
Esmaili was honored in Scottsdale, Ariz., late last year at K2's headquarters. The shoe donations even inspired him and K2 to sell the shoes at discount prices at makeshift "pop-up" stores in Scottsdale earlier this month.
The money from the stores is going toward medical equipment in Haiti. To date, the effort has raised $12,000, with a goal of reaching $25,000.
Esmaili has his own nonprofit, Youth Against Poverty, which works to connect his fellow teenagers with groups that work to help poor and impoverished children around the world. The organization is working to get official nonprofit status.