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."