Support of the running group of Debark

Project status: Project going on since several years

It is well known that Ethiopians are among the best long distance runners on Earth. It is also a fact that, compared to the male colleagues, girls and women in Ethiopia and in many other African countries are still discriminated and have to try harder to get the same fulfilment in life.
This inspired years ago some American women to form the “Girls Gotta Run Foundation” (www.girlsgottarun.org) and to invest in Ethiopian girls and young women. The GGRF is a 501©3 non-profit organization that provides support for impoverished Ethiopian girls who are training to be professional runners. While most do not become professional athletes, some do; and training allows them all to stay in school, avoid early marriage, and enhance their personal economic opportunities and self sufficiency. It also develops their sense of well being and personal power.
Material support provided by GGRF includes, but is not limited to, funds for running shoes, training clothes, extra food (“calorie money”), coach subsidies, and other training-related expenses. GGRF also advises local and partnering organizations on gender sensitive issues and advocates for gender equity in all running programs and organizations. Many of their projects have become financially self-sustaining through their involvement with Ethiopian institutions.

Due to the common provenience SimienEcoTours focused its partnership on one particular project of GGRF: the Simien Girl Runners, formed in Debark in spring 2008 by 10 girls aged about 14 years old that were chosen from the hundreds who competed in school races. The team membership was based not only on athletic ability and promise, but also on scholarship. As part of their team membership, all athletes committed to staying in school and completing their high school education. As of winter 2011, all ten girls had graduated from high school, and some of them continue their study in Gondar or other cities.
Partly as a result of the success of the Simien Girl Runners team, an Ethiopian businessman came forward in the winter of 2011 to invest in the creation of a co-ed running club/team in Debark for 30 runners. The Ethiopian government also dedicated funds to support an additional 30 runners in the Simien Mountains as well, through the local Sport and Youth Office of Debark. Three of the Simien Girl Runners were chosen to be a part of the new club, the Altimate Plan Athletics Club, and five of the girls were chosen to be included in the group of 30 being supported by the Sport and Youth Office. Besides these 30+30 athletes there are lots of other young boys and girls who train with them hoping for a better future, but who are not supported by anyone. The development of the Simien Girls Running team is an example of the success Girls Gotta Run Foundation has had in working closely with local individuals to create long term sustainable relationships and programs for women runners in Ethiopia. Girls Gotta Run Foundation continues to support the team on an informal basis and looks forward to celebrating the team’s future accomplishments.

SimienEcoTours’ Marco Degasper spent one complete month at the end of 2010 volunteering in Debark with the Simien Girl Runners and the extended running group, and returned there several times to visit them and always tried to support them, for example in bringing them what they most need: good running shoes (donated from sport shops and friends), to replace plastic sandals which is the most common and cheapest footwear in Ethiopia, and which are used also for running because it’s almost impossible for people to find good and affordable running shoes.
Also, in the future, SimienEcoTours aims to support the team with shoes or other offers that we hopefully receive from our clients. The runners of the Simien Mountains definitely won a permanent place in Marco’s heart.

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Cheap chinese plastic sandals Poor equipment
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Warming up Athletes Alem Tsehay and Mhawit
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Running in plastic sandals Running on the highland
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Training session The running group with coaches
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New professional running shoes Preparing the gifts
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Organizing races for shoes distribution New shoes for the winners
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Giving some running shoes Shoes need to be substituted
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New running shoes Trying the new shoes
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Smilling runner Alem Tsehay The sprinters of the team
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Marco's photostory about the runners in a magazine Showing themselves in the photostory
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Adelalew proudly presenting his medals The Simien Girl Runners in the t-shirts of GGRF
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Marco with the group in the new t-shirts Marco with the staff of the Sport and Youth Office
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