It has travelled more than 4,000km. Sixteen years have passed. It was like a message in a bottle but this was a gift in a shoebox.
In 1999, a then-Galway schoolgirl sent a Team Hope shoebox laden with presents to an Armenian boy and, yesterday, recipient came face-to-face for the first time.
After a two-year search to find the person who sent him the shoebox, Arsen Khachatryan finally met 24-year-old Tuam-born Claire Fahy.
The father-of-one had arrived in Ireland to thank Claire and to join forces with TV3’s Ireland AM to support the 2015 Team Hope Shoebox Appeal.
Together they are calling on families, schools, community groups and businesses to make a difference this Christmas for children in Africa and Eastern Europe.
Claire, who was a student at Belclare National School at the time, recalls what motivated her to reach out to other children.
“Our teacher asked us if we could imagine waking up on Christmas morning with no presents. She explained that for many kids, around the world, the shoebox is the only gift they would receive. This made me think of how lucky I was and that I really wanted to make a difference, especially at Christmas.”
Her gift made its way into Arsen’s possession.
He said: “It was incredible. We opened the shoeboxes and saw lovely gifts like clothes, toys and other small items all the way from Ireland. I received a lovely note from Claire too with a beautiful photo.”
Speaking at the launch, Team Hope executive director Niall Barry said Arsen and Claire’s story showed just how successful the shoebox appeal can be.
“Poverty and need is on the increase every year in the countries we visit and we see first-hand that our Christmas shoeboxes help bring joy, laughter, and hope to children living on the margins of society, victims of war, disease or poverty.”
A total of 169,705 shoeboxes were packed in Ireland last year and sent to more than 10 countries.
This year, Team Hope also plans to give shoeboxes to 20,000 refugee children.
Anyone wishing to get involved should simply fill a shoebox with gifts for a child, attach €4, and bring it to a drop-off point before November 10.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved