Change the Conversation: Interviews with Accelerate Ethiopia

On March 2nd over 150 runners will compete in Ethiopia’s first ever trail race– a half marathon in the country’s northern mountain highlands. The race is a culmination of a week of shared contribution to the eye health and educational strength of Ethiopia with Himalayan Cataract Project and imagine1day. In the days leading up to the race I will be bringing you profiles of Accelerate Ethiopia–runners (including local superstars, up and coming pros, and our international team of runners who have made Accelerate Ethiopia possible), educators, doctors, and change makers.

Girls Gotta Run Scholarship Athletes

Girls Gotta Run Scholarship Athletes

Banhi and Edan– Girls Gotta Run

Just outside and above Addis Ababa there’s an oasis for runners who crave strong lungs, lean legs, and fast times. Yaya Village is a training center established by Haile Gebreselassie andJoseph Kibur. Accelerate Ethiopia began with an overnight at Yaya and while there we got to run (or try to keep up) with the girls from Girls Gotta Run. This foundation does exactly what it says in it’s name and works in four month increments supplying training, housing and food to support emerging female Ethiopian runners. The girls range from 16-23 and are from Bale, Oromo, BahirDar and Addis– their homelands spread out starlike over Ethiopia’s vast lands. For now, they all live here at Yaya. After a morning run I sat down with seven of the eight scholarship students.

MB: Why do you love running?

Banhi: “Because I want to be one of the best Ethiopian Runners.” Banhi says this to me in English, andthen in Amharic to the other girls. Everyone nods their head and says the same.

“All of you want to be the best runner?” I ask.

“Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes…” seven yeses, all around.

MB: What do you think about being a woman running in Ethiopia?

Banhi Desalegen: “Ethiopian women are the strongest women– they don’t just stay in the house. We are strong, we can make a difference, we can be equal.”

MB: What should people know about Ethiopia?

Edan Gebrehana: “We are different from any other country in the world because of our culture, our art, our natural resources AND we are strong in athletics.”

Misti Misti Sayani

Misti is an Accelerate Ethiopia participant from Canada with this three word description of herself: Resourceful. determined, playful. I would add generous, surprising, and funny. Misti saw that we were spending time at Yaya Village, hopped online, saw they have the Girls Gotta Run program, andjust like that sponsored one girl for a year of living and training at Yaya.

MB: Why Accelerate Ethiopia? Why Now?

MS: In life, the chances are few, in which we find an opportunity that pulls together the many threads of our identity and delicately weaves them into a singular perfect tapestry.  When I first heard about Accelerate Ethiopia, I was filled with a whimsical “what if?” As a passionate foodie, a wannabe philanthropist and a mediocre runner, I had just finished Scott’s book – it had filled me with a renewed fire for obscure vegetables, faith in the indomitable power of the human spirit and the certainty that we can truly push ourselves to achieve the impossible.  Running together and sharing a collective journey, the opportunity to create new experience and hopefully adding my unique thread to the fabric of this project is the ultimate reward.

MB: What excites you most about Accelerate Ethiopia?

MS: Three simple words – changing the conversation – this project is more than restoring sight and building schools, it is about opening a dialogue for cultural exchange and fostering sustainability.  While the gift of eyesight and education are powerful, being the part of a nations journey towards self-actualization and the empowerment of a generation is an honour and a humbling privilege.