A shoebox miracle - 16 years on!
By Niall Barry
The year was 1999 and Ireland was preparing for a new millennium. Our economy was on the up, and despite fears about the ‘millennium bug’ we were gearing up for a new century with lots of optimism.
In Armenia, things were different. It was just nine years since they broke away from the Soviet Union and became a republic. The shadow of communism still loomed large and life was difficult. The results of the 1989 earthquake that killed 45,000 people and made over 500,000 homeless were still being felt.
In Yerevan, the capital city, life was hard. Most people lived in poor housing, with little money and unemployment was high. One of those people was nine-year-old Arsen Khachatryan, whose family were struggling to make ends meet. There was not much food, not many clothes and, for Arsen, there was very little to look forward to. It seemed as if the world had forgotten about Armenia.
Back in Ireland, eight-year-old Claire Fahy’s school in Tuam, Co Galway decided to take part in the Christmas Shoebox Appeal. Together with her family, Claire excitedly assembled her box. She decided to give it to a boy aged between four and nine years old, and wondered if it would go all the way to Africa or to one of the countries in Eastern Europe. Carefully packing her gifts, the last thing she put in was a note with her name and where she was from. She couldn’t help wondering about the boy who would receive her box.
That boy was Arsen, who still remembers the excitement of receiving gifts in a shoebox all the way from Ireland. Against all the odds, the one thing he kept through the years was the note from Claire that he’d found in the top of his box.
Sixteen years later, in 2015, Arsen is married with a little daughter and runs his own business in Yerevan. Claire works for the local vet in Tuam. Finding the note again, he decided to try and contact the girl who sent him this shoebox gift, to say thank you and to share what it had meant to him. Armed with the note and a little research he found Claire on Facebook!
Earlier this year the story went viral on social media and was picked up by Irish, UK, German and Armenian newspapers and magazines. Ray D’Arcy even surprised Claire live on RTE radio by having Arsen on the other end of a phone line from Armenia. But they still had never met and that’s where Team Hope stepped in. (Three million shoeboxes later, Team Hope is still sending these gifts to needy children in 24 countries)
With the help of Turkish Airlines, we flew Arsen to Dublin in September, where they met for the first time and launched this year’s Christmas Shoebox Appeal.
Team Hope can’t promise a fairy-tale meeting for every box but we can promise that every box will mean the earth to a boy or girl in Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union or Africa. So this year, will you share your Christmas? Share a little hope, the real meaning of Christmas and a lot of God’s love with someone who has a lot less than you do, and send a shoebox gift as part of Team Hope’s Christmas Shoebox Appeal.
You can contact Team Hope on (01) 2940222 or www.teamhope.ie.
Niall Barry is the CEO of Team Hope and Irish Christian development aid charity, which runs the Christmas Shoebox Appeal and a wide range of other projects throughout the year.