After the running: A lasting investment with Girls Gotta Run

When Biruk Abraham goes back to school this year, she won’t be swinging her running shoes. After three years on an athletic scholarship, she's graduated from Girls Gotta Run.

So what comes next?

And can our investment make a lasting difference? 

When we chatted with Biruk and Yordanos Esayas, another student who is graduating from the program, they talked not only about how much the program enriched their lives, but also about the fear of losing that support.

 Yordanos (left) and Biruk (right), two young women who graduated after three years in the Girls Gotta Run program.

Yordanos (left) and Biruk (right), two young women who graduated after three years in the Girls Gotta Run program.

Both girls want to continue with their education, and study social sciences in preparatory school (something similar to grade 11 and 12), but worry the costs will be prohibitive. They're sad to leave the safety net of Girls Gotta Run behind. And understandably, they're nervous about lining up the practical resources to follow their dreams.

"We are concerned it is the end of the program," Yordanos, who is 16, told us. She wants to be a politician and an artist and an actress when she is finished school (talk about a triple threat!), but remembers what a struggle it was for her family to afford school tuition before she was accepted into the Girls Gotta Run scholarship program. 

"They used to call out your name, because of not being able to pay (tuition). It was so shameful."

The Girls Gotta Run program uses running as a platform to teach self-confidence, life skills, and to help bridge young women through a vulnerable period in their lives, when many of their peers - just young teens - are dropping out of school to work or be married off. 

The athletic scholars receive school tuition and uniforms, running shoes and clothes, healthy meals and snacks, and the incredible camaraderie and bonding that comes with being part of a team.

There are so many wonderful ripple effects in this program. The girls teach their friends and younger siblings the lessons they learn, and their mothers are invited to participate in an entrepreneurial group where they begin a group savings plan and learn about financial literacy.

Yordanos told us that her favourite "life skills" lesson - those classes tackle everything from healthy relationships to hygiene - was the one that "penetrated her soul."

"I learned that women can do it, they can do anything - sometimes even go higher than the boys!"

What a testament to the power of the program.

Biruk was one of the first five girls that we sponsored in this program (now we fund 26 athletic scholarships through Girls Gotta Run!), and it's been incredible to see her progress. She wants to be a journalist when she's older. 

And after hearing from Biruk, Yordanos, and their parents about the struggle to put all their great skills and dreams into action once the athletic scholarship ends, our board has made a decision to extend our support.

We will now be financially supporting a handful of girls as they move on from Girls Gotta Run, by helping with their tuition to attend prep school. Mothers with a Heart for Ethiopia recognizes the value of education, and we want the incredible lessons and opportunities awakened by Girls Gotta Run to be the start of something great. We're hoping this additional support will allow girls with great potential and the desire to learn to continue on to higher levels of education.

These young women are the future of Ethiopia. We want to do all that we can to invest our donors' dollars in a way that tranforms lives. The goal is to create change agents who are motivated and inspired to make a difference for future generations just like them.

Thank you so much to all of our donors who make this sort of investment possible. 

We can't wait to see where Biruk and Yordanos end up in another three years!

 

The people behind the projects: Our coaches in Harar

We do the easy part.

That’s a lesson driven home every time we go to Ethiopia and see the hard work of our partners on the ground. We provide the funds. And that is an incredible opportunity – usually the key to making the work possible. But after the cheques are cashed and the transfers are done, there’s a whole team of people working to put those dollars into action.

We were awed by the dedication, compassion and humility of the four incredible soccer coaches that are leading our sponsored teams in Harar. We learned so much from Jemal, Gelaye, Kaza and Sarah.

 Coaches Jemal, Gelaye, Kaza and Sarah (from left to right).

Coaches Jemal, Gelaye, Kaza and Sarah (from left to right).

And each coach had their own compelling story about the power of soccer. 

When Kaza was a kid, his father drove a taxi to support the family. But Kaza remembers his dad pulling to the side of the road when he caught sight of little ones playing soccer. He'd encourage those aspiring players, do a little impromptu coaching, and then get back on the road.

"I grew up in that family so I try to continue that support," Kaza told us. He does small jobs to support his family, but mostly he depends on the modest stipend Mothers with a Heart for Ethiopia pays the four coaches. 

And that's why it was all the more meaningful when we heard what Kaza and others planned to do with that small salary.

"This will support us to stay in the field. We will spend that money to help kids attend training," Jemal said. He works as a teacher and sees the difference soccer has had on these young ladies. 

 Jemal huddles with his team.

Jemal huddles with his team.

"Kids are like a blank sheet of paper. You put something on it and it absorbs. I saw them put into practice what I had told them," he said after the big tournament (our two sponsored teams faced off) when we visited Ethiopia in June.

The coaches don't hesitate to invest hours of their time into practices, games and drills, or even to sink their salaries into food and equipment for the players. They want to see these young women succeed – no matter what sacrifice it takes from their mentors.

We visited several families in very precarious situations. Two sisters that play on one of our teams live with their parents in a makeshift shelter under a truck. The coaches told us that they try to feed the kids in need, sometimes even inviting players' families over to their own homes for a meal. 

"Most of the kids on my team are from the poorest communities. Six players live on the street," Gelaye said. For many of the players, the chance to play soccer – and dream of making a club team or even playing on the national level – is also about the opportunity to make it out of poverty. 

Remember, these are girls who couldn't even dribble a ball when they started on our teams!

"They are focused at training, because they have goals. They have a dream, that they'll be able to survive this challenge and become good soccer players. These girls have a dream and a target," Sarah said. 

We love having Sarah and Gelaye – one female coach per team – helping to guide and inspire these girls, proving to them that women can be soccer experts, too. Sarah didn't have any brothers growing up, so her mom pushed her to play the sport. She became an impromptu coach in neighbourhood games, when younger kids would call her over saying 'help us.' 

She connected with coaching more than playing, and turned to that full-time after a few years.

 Gelaye instructs her players from the sidelines.

Gelaye instructs her players from the sidelines.

The love between these coaches and their players was palpable, even when terse words were exchanged on the field. 

Sarah and Gelaye helped us purchase groceries to share with the families we visited for interviews. They were sensitive and compassionate and treated the families with such kindness. The trust in those relationships was so clear. 

And it was glaringly obvious to us that the coaches had been doing the same kind of work we hoped to do long before we showed up.

We asked what they're hoping to teach their players.

"We are the mothers of these kids, we are fathers of these kids," Sarah said. "When you come together all the time, you feel that unity and togetherness. Soccer in itself is love."

Meet Yabsera!

Do you remember Yabsera, the youngest member of our group home in Addis Ababa? You can learn a little bit more about the story behind our group home here, and see pictures of a young Yabsera.

But now Yabsera – the boys in the group home call him Yabi – is quite grown up! He's 12 and going into Grade 5. On our recent trip to Ethiopia, we sat down for a one-on-one interview to learn about his daily life and his favourite things to do.

And get this – the entire interview was in English! Yabi’s grasp on the language has improved so much since the last time we were in Ethiopia. In school, all subjects except Amharic (the national language) are taught in English.

Yabsera

Read on to find out a little more about Yabsera and what life is like for this 12-year-old boy in the capital city of Ethiopia.

Q: What do you study at school? What’s your favourite subject?

A: My favourite subject is math. I like adding. We also learn Amharic, science, English and math.

Q: Walk us through a day in your life.

A: First, I get up and I wash my face and I eat my food. I go to school by bus. I go to school and I play first. Next, we learn many subjects. In one day, we learn seven subjects.

Q: What do you like to do after school?

A: I study and play football.

Q: What are your favourite foods? What do you eat in an ordinary day?

A: I eat many foods. My favourite food is shiro (a traditional Ethiopian stew made with chickpea flour). [Editor’s note: We also heard from Yabi’s mom that he loves to eat homemade French fries, which in Ethiopia are called chips!] In the morning, I eat bread and honey, and I drink tea.

Q: What about buna (Ethiopian coffee)?

A: I don’t like buna.

Q: What do you like about life in the group home?

A: I am able to learn, and eat my food.

Q: What would you want to say to your Canadian sponsor or the donors back in Canada?

A: To my sponsor, I say thank you, because you are doing for me many things. Canada people, I love you very much.

Surgical Success Stories - #174 to #177

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This is Hegane Gute. She has suffered from prolapse for four years. She is a widow with six children and is so glad to have received sponsorship for her surgery.

Bafite Ashanso has had a prolapse for four years. She has been pregnant nine times and sadly, only two of her children are living. Thank you for helping her!

 

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This is Abaynesh Anjulo who has had a prolapsed uterus for 15 years. It has been especially serious for the past four years and has caused many issues. She has four children and is grateful for this life-changing surgery. 

 

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This is Gistane Alaro. She had prolapse surgery at another hospital 5 years ago and the condition returned one year later. She has been pregnant 11 times and has delivered 12 children. All are ALIVE!  She had prolapse several years before her last surgery and Dr. Mark and his team are going to restore this mom's dignity again. Thank you donors!

Surgical Success Stories - #170 to #173

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This is Amsale Demise, a fourty-five year old who has five children. She is married and has suffered from prolapse for two years. Before she was able to have surgery she needed to be treated for pneumonia. Her treatment was successful and she had surgery a few days after coming to Soddo Christian Hospital!

Hirut Badacho is a mother of 10 children and has been suffering with prolapse for five years. Thank you to our donors who have sponsored her life-changing surgery!

 

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Worke Wotango has also recently had her prolapse uterus surgery sponsored after suffering with this condition for three years. This widow and mother of three is so thankful!

 

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This is Merkebe Mena, a mother of five who has been having obstetiric issues for a year. Her medical condition was very serious when she came to Dr. Mark and his team. Thank you to all who have supported this project and helped women like Merkebe have a better life.

Surgical Success Stories - #168 & #169

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This is Beckelech Berata. She is 40 years old and has had a severe prolapse for five months. She has four children and was brought to Soddo Christian Hospital by her husband. Thank you for helping her!

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Dalibe Sigamo is 60 years old and has suffered from a prolapse uterus for three years. She has delivered nine children and five are still living. You have made a big difference in her life!

 

Surgical Success Stories - #165, #166, #167

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Say hello to Miserach Bate from Bucama. She had suffered from prolapse for three years and was anxious to have it surgically corrected. Thank you for helping her!

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Zewuditu Zafe is a mom who has delivered six children and, unfortunately, only four are living. She has had a prolapse for a year and is so glad to have her surgery. 

 

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This is Wudinesh Maja, also from Bucama. She is a mom of eight who has had a prolapsed uterus for four years. We are so grateful to our donors for helping us to make such a great difference in her life.

Surgical Success Stories - #162, #163, #164

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This is Endashe Wajage, a widow who has delivered nine children, five of whom are living. She has had prolapse for 6 years and now she is on the road to wellness. We are so grateful to our sponsors.

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This is Tayome Godilo. She has had prolapse for 13 years and is a widow who has been pregnant eight times and delivered 7 children. Thank you for helping her!

 

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This is Maskale Chonda. She is married and has delivered seven children, five of whom are living. She has suffered from prolapse for three years. Because of our wonderful MWAHFE donors, Maskale is on her way to health again!

Ethiopia Trip: The Soddo Diaries

 The women at the Spice Grinder project take hospitality to a new level.

The women at the Spice Grinder project take hospitality to a new level.

Spice Grinder

It's not often you pull up to an appointment to see 30 women welcoming you with song and dance. But that's a given when we visit our Spice Grinder project in rural Wolaita. This group is a force of nature, full of ambitious and energetic women who are determined to make a change in their lives and in their community.

Several years ago, Mothers with a Heart for Ethiopia (MWAHFE) provided the capital to buy a grinder, the building to house it, as well as entrepreneurial training so the women could launch a business grinding grains and spices. Our organization also bought a weigh scale, two donkeys to transport grain to market, and tools and equipment to farm the land around the spice grinder compound.

"We have always followed that hope you gave us," one member of the group told us. "We have become a model for other women in the area."

We were again able to offer WRAPS (washable, reusable, affordable pads) kits, and the accompanying health training, to the group during our visit. Last trip, the women were overwhelmed to receive those reusable pads. "You not only care about our outsides, you care about our insides, too!" they told us gleefully. We heard this year that other women in the community are pushing to join the Spice Grinder project so they can get in on the reusable pads!

 Nigate, one of the leaders in the Spice Grinder project.

Nigate, one of the leaders in the Spice Grinder project.

Of course, these sorts of projects aren't without challenges. The women told us during our most recent visit that they need more training to feel confident using and fixing the grinding machine. They also said they'd benefit from more education on how to run a business. Our board will be considering the options for further investment in the Spice Grinder project.

But in the meantime, the group came up with another venture. Since the grinder was purchased, the women have been socking their proceeds away in a group savings account, but not touching the funds. In the last year, they've decided to take out 1,000 birr loans (about $50) to help launch small businesses. Most of the women use the funds to buy butter and coffee, which they sell at the market. One woman can take out a loan at a time, and must pay it back - with 100 birr ($5) in interest - over six months. 

All the members also strive to save between 10 and 20 birr each month to contribute to the group pot.

We're so inspired by their resourcefulness and dedication to the savings group. (Oh, and their dance skills, obviously).

 

WRAPS

Imagine staying home from work or school just because you have your period. Or using leaves and dirty rags instead of hygienic products. That's a reality for some women and girls in Ethiopia. And that's why we're so pleased to have donated, with your help, enough money to distribute 1,000 washable, reusable, affordable pads (WRAPS) last year. Along with a WRAPS kit, which includes eight pads, a wet bag, and underwear, girls receive education about the female reproductive system and training on how to use and reuse the washable pads. 

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Allison Karnes is the lead on this project, and she proudly declared the pads "the best in Africa!" when we visited with her workers in Soddo in June. That's another rewarding offshoot of the WRAPS program - the women who are employed to make them! 

Aynalem has been there since the beginning, when there were just three women working diligently to create a reusable pad that would work, hold up to frequent washings, and be comfortable. Now there are nine full-time workers and nine sewing machines in their office.

 Aynalem, manager at WRAPS and a soon-to-be college graduate.

Aynalem, manager at WRAPS and a soon-to-be college graduate.

"Before we are just making a small amount of WRAPS. Now it's a huge amount," Aynalem told us.

She's not kidding. WRAPS has an order of 5,000 kits to fulfill for an NGO by the end of the summer. That's a lot of pads!

And in a few weeks, Aynalem will mark a very special milestone of her own. She's graduating with a degree in accounting from a college in Soddo. She completed that program while also raising two kids - a three-year-old boy and a one-year-old girl.

All of the women in the WRAPS program go to school, some in younger grades because they were never afforded the opportunity for education as children. But most attend school at nights and on the weekends while working full-time at WRAPS.

Aynalem said it's been exciting to see the venture grow and blossom.

"I used to use disposable pads. For three years, we are using this. That makes me very happy."

 

Girls Gotta Run Foundation

Running, singing, learning, quality time with the MWAHFE paparazzi . . . we covered all the bases during our time with the athletic scholars at Abba Pascal Girls School.

Our organization sponsors 26 young ladies in the Girls Gotta Run program, which uses running as a tool to empower girls, increase access to education, and break cycles of poverty and child marriage. 

 The Girls Gotta Run athletic scholars did a mini-practice, despite a rainy day and muddy field, to show us some of their training and drills.

The Girls Gotta Run athletic scholars did a mini-practice, despite a rainy day and muddy field, to show us some of their training and drills.

It's nothing short of awesome to see these girls in action. We got to catch a quick practice, and aside from their obvious athletic skills, it was really special to see the friendships and connections that are built through the team. 

Creating a support network of peers is one of the crucial goals of Girls Gotta Run.

 Betelhem Tegegn and Fidelphia Tamirat.

Betelhem Tegegn and Fidelphia Tamirat.

"I'm beyond happy to be in this program," said Betelhem Tegegn, a 15-year-old student who just finished Grade 7 and her second year as an athletic scholar. "I have learned a lot, but mostly how to communicate. Before, I was shy and didn't have any friends. Now I am making friends."

The girls build confidence, running skills, and are enjoy team meals after practice. They also benefit from life skills training that tackles tough topics like safe relationships and self-esteem.

"Before I got in this program, I used to think there were some tasks females can't do," said Fidelphia Tamirat, a 13-year-old athletic scholar. "But now I get self-confidence. I feel proud of my gender.'

 

Prolapse Uterus Surgeries

We had the incredible privilege of speaking with four women recovering from surgery to treat a prolapsed uterus last week. It's a common condition for women who have had a child (and many Ethiopian women have had six, seven or eight pregnancies, though all the children may not have survived).

But in areas where medical care is difficult or impossible to access, the condition can drag on for years. Most of the women we've spoken to in previous years didn't know what was happening to their bodies - they just knew something was very wrong. In an intensely private culture, it's not unusual for a woman to keep those concerns secret, not even telling her friends or family.

There are degrees of prolapse, but in the most severe cases, the uterus actually protrudes from the body. Not only is that incredibly painful and scary, it also causes incontinence and makes walking - and living normally - very difficult. Many women who suffer from the condition in rural areas are isolated, hidden away from their communities because of the shame, stigma and smell.

We were so heartened this year to hear the four women who were treated for prolapse had heard from their neighbours and friends about the solutions offered at rural health clinics and at the Soddo Christian Hospital, where Dr. Mark Karnes uses our funds to treat prolapse patients. 

Several of the women had communicated their struggles to one another, and one woman had even told her son. It may not seem like much, but to us this represented a real sign of progress. If women are able to open up to one another about these concerns, it's more likely that they will find out about the health care options available to them, even in very small and rural areas.

"A couple of mothers that I knew already had the surgery," Ayelech said. "If I come across any other women (who have the condition), I will let them know," she added.

Even a day after surgery, recovering in hospital, these four patients were over the moon about the procedure and the difference it would make in their lives.

"I am so happy. I'm better now," Gaule said from her hospital bed. "Now I can do anything I want."

Several women were running their households, taking care of children and even doing intense labour like farming to support their families - all without any treatment for their prolapse.

It's almost unbearable to think about those conditions and the pain these women must bear, both emotional and physical. Surgery to correct a prolapse uterus is only $325. So far, we have funded more than 160 surgeries. 

The cost is reasonable for most Canadians, but out of reach for the Ethiopian women we spoke to. These women have spent years with untreated prolapse. 

"Because of you, I'm feeling much better now," said Bature, another prolapse patient who was recovering in hospital when we sat down for an interview.

"Now I can be normal. I won't be ashamed."