Liberty Twp. teen launches international humanitarian project

For John Ferguson, helping the world means changing lives one sole at a time.

That’s the motto behind the 14-year-old Liberty Twp. boy’s effort, The Shoe Project, a non-profit charity that aims to make a difference in the lives of many by donating shoes for people in need to wear.

In less than half a year, John has facilitated the donation and delivery of more than 400 shoes to schools and churches in countries like The Gambia, Zimbabwe, South Africa and Cambodia.

The Lakota East freshman said he launched the project last summer after his mother returned from a trip to Africa, where she visited many orphanages.

“She was telling me how these kids were walking to school and carrying their shoes beside them because they didn’t want to get them dirty,” John said. “I felt like I needed to do something.”

What he did was use social media to encourage his classmates and community to donate shoes, Ferguson said.

John also embarked on an international trip to see for himself the state of poverty abroad. Not wanting to travel to Africa due to Ebola-related risks, he headed with parents Andrew and Chen Ferguson on a month-long trip to southeast Asia, including Cambodia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore and Thailand.

“My family and I visited a secondary school in Cambodia where the kids don’t even have electricity and we donated shoes there,” he said. “Southeast Asia is also very similar to Africa in many ways. I don’t think people realize that.”

Donating shoes helps people go to school to get an education, protects them from harmful diseases and injury, allows them to seek opportunity, and ultimately helps them change their lives in a positive manner, John said.

He credits his mother, a Miami University associate professor specializing in international education, for helping him set up The Shoe Project. He also said he has much gratitude for Paul Heintz, owner of Mojo Running in West Chester Twp., for donating a majority of the shoes.

John said he’d like to have more than 1,000 shoes donated by year’s end, but he doesn’t want to stop there.

“I want to take it further,” he said. “I’m not really setting a number on it but some of the geographic regions I’m looking into are Latin American, some more countries in Africa once the Ebola starts to die down a little bit there … maybe some other countries in southeast Asia.”

Social media, thus far, has proven to be a fast, effective way to get people to donate, but also to find groups like nursing teams or study abroad groups that might be able to transport donated shoes to foreign countries, John said.

Organizing the effort has been “pretty rewarding,” he said.

“I love to see things coming together and the kids getting these shoes and making an impact in these kids lives,” John said.

For more on John's efforts, visit You can also donate shoes via Mojo Running, 8777 Cincinnati-Dayton Road, West Chester Twp.

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