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Man Brings Joy And New Shoes To Somali Refugees


In Clarkston, Ga. near Atlanta, there's a Somali-American man who helps refugees get settled. His name is Omar Shekhey and NPR's Pam Fessler went to Clarkston to meet him. She sent back this postcard about how helping out can get a little awkward at times.

PAM FESSLER, BYLINE: Omar Shekhey is watching some kids play basketball at the local gym when he notices a 9-year-old girl shuffling around. Her feet are hanging at least an inch over the backs of her plaid sneakers.

OMAR SHEKHEY: I'm going to buy you shoes today. I'm going to get you shoes. The shoe's too small. I can tell.

FESSLER: Shekhey runs the Somali American Community Center in Clarkston and he says the girl's mother's a recent refugee from Africa, that she probably doesn't have the time or money to get the girl new shoes. So Shekhey asks one of the center's aides what size sneakers he should buy. It does not go well.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: She said these are 6-year-old and she wears 9-year-olds.

SHEKHEY: OK. So this is what?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: This is 13-and-a-half.

SHEKHEY: So she needs 15.

FESSLER: Well, actually there is no size 15. So, I decide I have to say something.

I think it ends at 13 or so, and then it goes to adult sizes. I think. So, she might be like a five or something.



SHEKHEY: Nine? No.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: That's your age, sweetie. That's how old you are.

FESSLER: The next morning when Shekhey goes to the store and starts looking at all the kids shoes, he also seems a bit confused. Again, I can't help myself. After all, this is a little girl we're talking about.

So this is what she had, right? So, let's see how much bigger. I would go with the three.

SHEKHEY: Yeah. Go with the three.

FESSLER: At this point, I hope Shekhey puts down those black sneakers he's looking at and picks up the pretty white ones with the pink and teal trim. Thank goodness, he does. Then it's off to the socks. Shekhey heads for ones that would barely cover the girl's ankles.

I think you want longer socks. Maybe something like these.

I point to some colorful striped knee highs - definitely what a little girl would like. But Shekhey opts instead for the 10-pack of plain white ankle socks. Oh, well.

AUTOMATED VOICE: Insert cash or select payment type.

FESSLER: But the total cost - shoes and socks - is only $18.02. Not bad, especially considering the response later that day at the center when Shekhey opens his shopping bag.

SHEKHEY: Here's the shoes.


SHEKHEY: Yes, we have your shoes today. I want you to try it, OK? And I have socks for you, too. OK, brand-new shoes, sweetie.

FESSLER: Notice - no cheer for the socks.

SHEKHEY: Here you go. How that fits?



FESSLER: Shekhey first gets a big hug.

SHEKHEY: What do you say when somebody gives you something?


SHEKHEY: Thank you. (Laughter).

FESSLER: And off she goes. Pam Fessler, NPR News.

SIMON: And Pam Fessler's full profile of Omar Shekhey can be heard next week on Morning Edition. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Pam Fessler is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, where she covers poverty, philanthropy, and voting issues.