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Josipa Akinradewo at home in West Clare with her husband Kunle Akinradewo and children Jakov Grgec and Hanna Akinradewo. Photograph by John Kelly.

Shoeboxes send much needed message of hope

WEST Clare mother Josipa Akinradewo knows only too well the joy that the Team Hope annual Christmas Shoebox Appeal can bring. As a young girl living in Croatia while her father fought in its War of Independence she was one of those to receive a precious gift from a stranger overseas. That experience stayed with her, and now preparing a shoebox for others has become an annual tradition she shares with her own children.
This year because of Covid-19 the experience will be very different, with people being asked to build a ‘virtual box’ online to be given to children in need in Africa and Eastern Europe.
However, this has not taken away the spirit of the initiative which has brightened the lives of so many, and Josipa is encouraging others to get involved.
Josipa, her husband and two children have been living in Ireland for five years. A year after their arrival her son brought home a leaflet about the shoebox appeal which reminded her of her own childhood.
She recalled to him how during the Croatian War of Independence her mother was alone with three girls while their father was on the front-line.
“My dad’s aunt was volunteering with the Red Cross and in the church so that is how we got our shoeboxes from Germany in 1993. I remember the things that were inside like puzzles, sweets, dolls, stationery, things for personal hygiene but the thing I remember the most is a small photo and a letter from a child who was sending a package. He had brown eyes with light brown hair and few freckles on his face. My mum was reading the letters and translating as we didn’t know the language. He wrote that he hopes whoever gets his box likes the gifts he sent and that he wishes that the person is somewhere safe and that the war will end soon.”
She tells us, “As an 8-year-old girl, although I was happy with the presents I received, I was angry at life itself as it made me realise how unfair it can be. Sometimes we don’t have control over it. No-one asked me or my friends would we rather play in the park and go to school or hide in the basement waiting for the siren sound to know that we can go back to our homes.
“No one asked me would I prefer to have my dad around or be watching news every day and be afraid of a possible phone call where they will tell us that daddy won’t come home. Unfortunately, some of my friends and family members have received those calls. All these things, shape you up as a person. I am grateful that my dad came back home. I feel lucky that my town was not that affected as, for example, Vukovar, the place that the entire world heard about yet no-one was able to stop it. That is why I have made a promise to myself that I will help other people the best I can. That, seeing my mum caring for others as a nurse and my grandpa’s sudden death opened my pathway to choose nursing as my career and getting involved in any way to help those in need.”
After telling her son about how she had received a shoebox, he said he would love to take part. “He is also a caring person and aware of people in need around him. And his little sister is following his footsteps.”
Since then the shoebox appeal has become a tradition for the family. “Every year I would allow the children to choose who we will prepare the package for. To see excitement on their faces when making plans what they will buy for their shoebox friend is just adorable. I  think that is the most precious gift we can give to our children. To shape them to be kind to others and grateful for the things that are provided to them. And to show them the joy of sharing. I think we, as a human kind, turn onto the pathway of self destruction and most of them are not even bothering to change direction. That is why small actions like this brings back my faith in good people who are trying to make the world better again. And you definitely want to be one of them.”
Kathy Locke of Team Hope in Clare explains that this year’s appeal has moved online as a result of Covid-19. “This year our Christmas Shoebox Appeal is going to be run differently. Due to the effects of Covid-19 restrictions, it is not possible to send gift-filled shoeboxes from Ireland this year, so we’re asking schools, families, friends, communities and businesses to team up for Team Hope by donating gift-filled shoeboxes online.
“These donations will allow our network of local partners in Africa and Eastern Europe to purchase the Wash, Wear, Write and Wow items for shoeboxes, which will then be delivered straight into the hands of children affected by poverty. You can personalise your gift by downloading a page, colouring it and scan or upload a photo of your page which will be sent to the partners to print and include with your “shoebox” gift. Often these shoeboxes are the only gift that a child will receive at Christmas and the joy that they deliver is incredible.”
All last week Team Hope were engaged in Christmas Shoebox Appeal Week encouraging schools, families and communities to celebrate the Christmas Shoebox Appeal by building and donating their shoeboxes online, sharing pictures on social media using #TeamUpForTeamHope, coordinating fundraisers to purchase shoeboxes, and learning about the appeal and the importance of giving. Virtual shoeboxes can be donated anytime up until December 23.
To get involved check https://www.teamhope.ie/christmas-shoebox-appeal/  A video on how to create your virtual shoebox is also available to see on the Team Hope Ireland Facebook page.

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