Emmanuel Ntibonera looks beyond the shoe drive to help Congo
- Ntibonera’s experience fleeing Congo as a refugee inspired him to collect shoes to distribute to children.
- With help from the Kickin’ It foundation, David Nasser and Liberty students, Ntibonera helped deliver over 20,000 shoes in July 2017 and hopes to do more.
The last name Ntibonera means “a surprise in a good way,” and Emmanuel Ntibonera lived up to that definition when he helped deliver shoes to over 20,000 Congolese children this summer.
The donated shoes were the result of a campus-wide shoe drive in March 2017 that partnered the Kickin’ It For a Cause organization and the Ntibonera Foundation, which Ntibonera co-founded with his brothers John and Baraka.
“It was a surprise because it was something that has never been done in the history of Congo,” Ntibonera said. “(It was) the biggest shoe drive ever, and people are really surprised, and they were asking where are we from and why are we doing this because they had never seen that.”
Ntibonera and his family fled the Democratic Republic of the Congo when he was about nine due to war and political instability, as the nation was in the throes of civil conflict after opponents of the Congolese president Joseph-Désiré Mobutu ousted him in a coup and ignited ethnic tensions. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, there are almost 4 million internally displaced people in the DRC in July 2017 and a little over 616,500 refugees fleeing to other African countries.
The Ntibonera family of 11 fled as refugees to Kenya, where they lived for nine years before moving to the United States. Ntibonera returned to the Congo to visit family in 2015, and he views what he witnessed on that trip as confirmation from God to start a shoe drive and foundation to help his homeland.
“When I was just spending time with the people over there, I realized that so many kids don’t have shoes on and then I realized that lack of footwear is why so many of them had infections and all that, so that’s when I started collecting shoes,” Ntibonera said.
Ntibonera’s journey collecting shoes with the Ntibonera Foundation led him to speak with Senior Vice President for Spiritual Development David Nasser, asking for prayer for the Congo and sharing his mission.
“I felt like God just told me to go talk to him because I really wanted to have my fellow students be involved in a mission like that, and Liberty is such a good platform to honor God and to be able to have a good impact,” Ntibonera said. “David Nasser was one of those who believed in the vision and he said, ‘I think we should do it.’”
Soon after, Nasser met with Chris Strachan, a Liberty University graduate who founded the Kickin’ It organization. According to the Kickin’ It website, the organization seeks to use its “media platform, network and love for sneakers as a tool to bring pop culture and community service together.”
According to Liberty University News Service, Nasser connected the two men who launched the campaign to collect shoes, and even invited Strachan’s friend NBA star Stephen Curry to help.
“What I like about this project is that it started in the heart of a student — not in a boardroom,” Nasser said to Liberty University News Service. “It started with us having coffee, and he just wanted his campus pastor to pray for him. Sometimes when you ask for prayer, God wants you to be the answer to the prayer. I knew when I was praying for him, that God wanted Liberty to be involved.”
As a result of the collaboration, Curry spoke at Convocation March 1 and donated 1,000 pairs of shoes. Liberty students donated new and gently used shoes and helped pack them for shipping overseas.
In July 2017 Ntibonera made a trip back to the Congo with some of his brothers, Nasser, Strachan and Josh Rutledge, Liberty’s vice president for spiritual development, to deliver the shoes.
“It was the best experience of my life, just being able to go back and do that because in 2015 I told them I’ll come back – I don’t know what I’m going to come with, I don’t know what I’m going to bring for you, but I’m coming back, so it was like a fulfillment of the promise that I made to them,” Ntibonera said. “In 2015, I went empty handed, but in 2017 I wasn’t empty handed: I had something with me, and it was a pair of shoes.”
Watching children smile and put on the shoes – for some children it was their first pair – was a powerful experience for Ntibonera, and he hopes to expand his work for the Congo.
“Many people were left brokenhearted because they didn’t get a pair of shoes because there wasn’t enough for everyone,” Ntibonera said.
Currently, Ntibonera is working on another campaign with Strachan to collect 100,000 shoes to take to Congo in the summer of 2018.
“People have already started collecting shoes at different places. We already have shoes at different places, so we just need to start collecting them and keeping the count,” Ntibonera said, who plans to collect the shoes from the drop-off stations later in November.
In addition to collecting and distributing shoes, Ntibonera hopes to build schools for the children.
“Not only will we be focusing on shoes, but building schools for kids and making sure they attend. . . and (charging) no fee for those who cannot afford to go to school, so I’m going to make sure it’s so affordable for every kid to attend school,” Ntibonera said.
Ntibonera is thankful for the support he’s received from Liberty students so far, and he says that the Congolese children were “very, very grateful” for the shoes.
“It has a great impact because you may not realize it but so many kids cannot even afford a pair of shoes and cannot go to school because they don’t have shoes on and have infections and I feel like we can bring an end to that by making sure each child in Africa gets a pair of shoes, so I’m going to do more,” Ntibonera said.