/

Charity group looking forward to Cote d’Ivoire match at World Cup

Kyodo

A nonprofit organization in Gifu Prefecture that has been working for years to donate used shoes to children in Cote d’Ivoire has an interesting weekend ahead as Japan plays its opening World Cup soccer match against the African nation’s team.

“I hope Japan-Cote d’Ivoire exchanges will be expanded in the wake of the World Cup match,” said Toshio Sugiyama, 60, head of the NPO.

Members of the organization, which is named simply Gifu-Cote d’Ivoire, are likely to cheer for both teams, he said.

The Japanese team will face off against Cote d’Ivoire in Recife, Brazil, at 10 a.m. on Sunday.

Sugiyama, who runs a flower shop, visited Cote d’Ivoire for the first time in 2008 and saw children kicking coconuts instead of soccer balls with their bare feet. He says they told him shoes were too expensive.

He set up the NPO in 2009, started collecting used shoes, and has so far delivered an estimated 19,000 pairs.

During the first delivery in 2009, Sugiyama was appointed honorary mayor of a village outside of Yamoussoukro, the capital, in recognition of his activities.

Kakou Brou Georges, deputy head of the Cote d’Ivoire association in Japan, said the NPO’s efforts have been a dream come true for children living in difficult conditions.

In mid-April, about 40 members of the NPO gathered at a parking lot in the city of Gifu to help sort through about 10,000 pairs of used athletic shoes, including the spiked variety, donated by high schools and others in the prefecture.

A donation amounting to somewhere around 8 tons of shoes is expected to arrive in the western African nation around July, according to the organization.