I first stumbled upon the Girls Gotta Run Foundation while running a race in Washington State.
Per most fun-run type races, some of the registration proceeds went to support the organization.
What is Girls Gotta Run?
The program focuses on running, education, life skills, financial literacy, and entrepreneurship.
Girls Gotta Run offers scholarships to girls to stay in school and gives girls and their moms opportunities to feel secure and develop financial skills for community development.
Girls Gotta Run hopes to enable girls with the ability to direct their own lives.
THAT… is obviously something I can get behind!
Girls Gotta Run is genuinely making a difference in the lives of girls and their mothers in Ethiopia – where running is not just a hobby but the national sport and, often, a life-saving activity that creates opportunity and strength in the girls.
Girls are being inducted into a community that supports them in essential ways like: education, meals, sanitary and health items, medical care, and more.
Girls Gotta Run’s mission is to invest in girls who use running and education to empower themselves and their communities in Ethiopia.
Rather than letting Ethiopian girls drop out of school and enter into marriage as early as 12 years old, an age that would be considered much too early in most of the western world, Girls Gotta Run offers them an opportunity for education and empowerment.
This ultimately leads to heightened self-efficacy, sustainable success in school, community development, and overall well-being.
Imagine for a Moment…
Picture yourself at 12 years old…
- What if you had the looming thought that you were about to have to leave school, your friends, and fun activities indefinitely, maybe for life?
- How would it feel to be looking at marriage and starting a family?
- What would it look like to support yourself and your family without additional training or education?
- How would it feel to be confined by society’s expectations of you and have to become a woman and provider on the spot?
- What if your future dreams were suddenly taken away from you because money was tight and your family needed extra help around the house to keep the household running?
- How would it be to feel unsafe at home or in your home community because you are alone while other kids are in school?
Can you feel the fear, anxiety, sadness, and loneliness building?
What about the self-worth and belief in yourself deteriorating?
Many girls in Ethiopia face these real scenarios, questions, disappointments, and fears on the regular.
Merawit, is one such girl.
Her family says that prior to being a scholarship recipient, she struggled in school and was an unruly child.
Now, she does well and is excited and proud of her work.
She regularly shares what she learned with her family — like a soap making project she completed.
Change Through Education
Merawit has also begun to believe and encourage others that, “by learning we will change our lives.”
Through the support of the Girls Gotta Run programming and feeling that the families’ basic needs are taken care of, Merawit has a newly discovered sense of belief in herself and commitment to excellence in her studies.
These are the kinds of moments that Girls Gotta Run intends to step in and, honestly, gift miracles.
School Dropouts Have More at Risk
Usually, when girls reach teenage years, they are taken out of school to be married, help with the family business, or do other household chores and responsibilities.
Ultimately, it is deemed more of a financial savings as well as financial support for the girls to help with family responsibilities or be less of a fiscal burden to her family by joining her hand in marriage.
This is detrimental to the girls because they lose a sense of connection with others their own age, affecting their continued education in school and social scenarios.
Forced to Grow Up
It doesn’t allow them to engage with others about what is going on in their lives.
2 in 10 girls in Ethiopia leave school early for marriage and the international domestic violence rate towards women is 5 times higher than men.
It is especially precarious because it leads to higher risk for HIV/AIDS, rape, and other harmful practices present in the country.
In Ethiopia, wife beating is justified by 74% of men and women and approximately 45% of women experience forceful sex without any consent.
In other nations, abuse is still too high, but tends to be less than a rate of 70%.
Why Running Makes Life Better
Running became a pivotal part of the program to continue fostering relationships and community between the girls.
The aim was to create a safe space for them to discuss issues they are facing at home, and an opportunity to experience their own personal power, which builds confidence.
Besides the “cool factor” of running being the national sport, Girls Gotta Run believes that running helps girls with physical and mental health, their view of themselves and their potential, and creates a community that supports safety.
Keeping the girls engaged in the sport and education acts as a catalyst for better futures. They start to recognize their own strength and create a caring community.
Because their running community is established and they have trust there, the girls look out for one another — noticing if someone is “off” or needs help.
The act of running really makes them a team throughout their lives — for support and accountability.
Inspiration Towards More
Many girls in the Girls Gotta Run program look up to national heroes like Tirunesh Dibaba and Meseret Defar for their accomplishments on and off the track.
Inspired by these women, the girls will push themselves to compete in their running groups and look forward to going to university.
Zelalem and Her Mother
One little girl is named Zelalem.
At 12 years old, she aspires to become an engineer.
A dream that her mother, Zehlu, was not permitted to have.
At the same age, , Zehlu was married and started her family.
Since Girls Gotta Run has sponsored Zelalem and Zehlu, their stories have evolved.
Zelalem is a runner, student, dreamer, friend, sister, and so much more.
Blessings for Mom Too
Meanwhile, her mother is a blossoming independent woman – enrolled in the Girls Gotta Run Savings and Entrepreneurship Program, learning about financial literacy and creating a self-sustainable life.
This is incredibly important for the mothers to learn because they are able to rely more on themselves, instead of feeling controlled by their marriage or circumstances, and feel their own contribution to their family and community.
By noticing how they contribute and feeling strong at it, they develop a sense of confidence and belief in themselves.
Knowing financial literacy, also enables the mothers to teach it to their children which sets up a positive system that will help future generations in Ethiopia.
Zehlu is excited about this because it allows her to be an example for her children and hopes that they will lead even better lives. Read more about their story here.
By providing a full scholarship for girls to attend primary and secondary school, the girls and their moms also receive: medical services, clothing, school supplies, tutoring services, toiletries and female health items, and daily meals.
Effectively, the usual barriers that would cause a girl to drop out and consider early marriage seemingly disappear.
In order to graduate and have the opportunity to continue on in higher education, the scholarship will also cover the costs of tests to showcase intellectual skills and aptitude.
Education is a primary focus because it is shown that the girls who stay in school are more able to provide themselves with better economic situations and build a future.
As of right now, 95% of girls in Ethiopia attend school but only 10% complete the 12th grade. Girls Gotta Run works to ensure girls and moms are taken care of through their high school years.
Each girl in the program receives a scholarship to be on the running team, which meets three times a week around their school schedule.
They receive coaching and the opportunity to compete in a race every year.
Olympic legends like, Derartu Tulu, Tirunesh Dibaba, and Haile Gebrselassi, come from Ethiopia, and running is so renowned there; Girls Gotta Run believes that running is a relevant, tangible and accessible inlet to impact the girls’ lives.
The life skills portion of the programming could be thought of as Home Economics or Health class in the United States.
Girls Gotta Run hopes to educate the girls on the basics of: financial health, nutrition and women’s health, creative expression, illness prevention, family planning, and healthy relationships.
Again, here the girls are equipped with information so that they can craft their own lives and prosperity.
Another unique piece to the life skills programming, as the girls complete their year of life skills training, they get to assist the next group of girls.
As the Phil Collins’ song goes, “In learning you will teach and in teaching you will learn.”
If you can teach it, you definitely know it!
Savings and Entrepreneurship
The savings program focuses on the girls’ mothers so that they can learn how to sustainably support themselves and their family.
It is hugely encouraging and empowering for these females to feel secure and learn just how capable they are.
It is also an opportunity for the women to come together and form interpersonal relationships, rather than being cooped at home — often alone.
The moms complete a financial and entrepreneurship workshop and receive a stipend to invest in a savings program.
At the end of a three-year program, they have an opportunity to invest their savings in a savings group to help the community develop economically.
This piece of the program is intended to increase financial security and the well-being of women.
As a byproduct, the women’s savings groups stimulate the local economy and improve the community overall.
Goals for Girls Gotta Run
The United Nations Department of Economics and Social Affairs stated that “investing in girls is the most powerful investment for development.”
That development occurs directly in the girls’ lives and extends outward, which benefits the greater good.
The original need met by Girls Gotta Run was to keep girls in school and empower women.
The organization still focuses heavily on setting girls up for success by investing in their education and welfare early on, creating programs that offer them holistic opportunities to develop themselves, friendships, dreams, self-sufficiency, and goals.
Girls Gotta Run has been involved in Ethiopia since 2006, and they continue to strengthen the program and bring running and education to the girls and mothers in Ethiopia.
Ultimately, girls would have the opportunity to choose their education and pave a path for their future. With this kind of investment, girls could truly run the world.
Focusing on Ethiopia
For now, the organization is committed to remaining focused in Ethiopia and deepening the program’s success so that more lives are touched through running teams and school.
Girls Gotta Run believes that the program would do well in other nations as well, but due to resources and wanting to see substantial results where it began, they don’t want to spread the energy too thin too soon
They hope that the program in Ethiopia will churn like clockwork in the near future so that they could look at expanding their impact.
Impact of Girls Gotta Run
Because the program really catalyzes economic development in Ethiopia, over 1100 community members’ lives have been impacted by the incredible strength and leadership of the women who are bettering themselves and thereby the world around them.
While most girls don’t become professional runners, more and more girls are being sponsored all the way through school and going on to additional school or doing well with their family business and contributing to their home community.
Mothers of the girls are encouraged and inspired to take charge of their lives too.
The Bekoji Marketplace
In the Ethiopian town of Bekoji, there is a community market that is open a few days a week and many of the mothers sell products like teff flour, spices, barley, and coffee or they create their own craft product using local resources.
The Savings and Entrepreneurship program enables the women to kick off their small business in a more robust way and in a way that is empowering for them.
Because the mothers are gathered together for the market days, they are also afforded community and friendship benefits.
Having a connection with others whom they can relate to and resonate with is so powerful for their mental well-being and sense of purpose.
I am So Privileged — Pay It Forward
Because of my standing as an educated, single, 30-year-old female runner, I felt immense empathy with this cause and for these girls.
Education has afforded me so many opportunities to pursue a career, meet lifelong friends, and understand how the world and community work.
When I started running, it supported more than just my cardio health but my mental health, understanding of myself, and self-confidence.
Furthermore, I’ve had options to explore different business ventures with friends and family and be involved in small business celebrations in my community.
Most notably, working with the Small Business Development Center, I saw how starting and managing a small business changed the lives of so many families.
Valuable Learning Experience
It wasn’t only income for these business owners — it was a lifestyle, a learning opportunity for their kids, and a passion that gave them life.
While these individual things may seem like obvious parts of life to me, then it is also obvious that if these options are not available to others, they need to become increasingly available.
If your heart is as fired up and reaching out to these women as mine was (and is), here are a few ways you could get involved…
Make a one-time donation or multiple.
It does not matter the size of your donation.
Donations are a flexible way to support the organization in whatever way the Girls Gotta Run program needs most.
They will be used towards events that benefit the program, accrued in scholarship funds, used for the Saving Program’s funding, and much more.
There is much less commitment necessary for this option, but it is greatly appreciated and well-applied to the programming nonetheless.
Become a sponsor
Sponsorship is another way to support Girls Gotta Run.
In this option, for a very nominal monthly payment ($50 – $85), you will give a girl and her mother their monthly needs.
It covers any education costs.
It will also provide them with food, hygiene items, and necessary clothing.
This allows them less worry and more energy to dedicate to their studies, business pursuits, and community building.
Are you an organizer and influencer?
Start a fundraiser to increase awareness and donations to Girls Gotta Run.
Here are a few ideas:
- Host a bake sale
- Organize a fun run (5k, 10k, you name it!)
- Throw a themed birthday party
- Plan a gala for entrepreneurs and artisans, local in your area
- Coordinate a health and fitness workshop
In your community, what kind of event would spark a connection to Girls Gotta Run? Who would jump at the opportunity to be involved?
What would it be like to model a marketplace after the one in Bekoji?
Whether a one-time event or a recurring one, your collaboration and promotion of the organization are invaluable.
Run in Ethiopia
Get hands-on in the girls’ lives and connect with the cause by taking a trip to Ethiopia to run alongside these incredible women.
See the impact that Girls Gotta Run is making first hand.
Get In Touch
Inspire the women you meet and be inspired by them.
They say that giving is a surefire way of feeling happy and purpose-driven.
Being with these girls and ladies could not disappoint.
The total trip cost includes a donation to the program, so both your presence and contribution make a huge difference in the Ethiopian women’s lives.
Use Your Voice
Passionate and excited about Girls Gotta Run, but feeling like you need a little extra financial stability yourself?
- Simply use your voice.
- Share the cause on your platforms.
- Talk about it with your friends and family. Spread the word and get more people fired up about educating girls worldwide.
These girls and women are creating change in their own lives, their families, and communities now and for generations to come.
Be Involved and Your Best in Your Community
If you love running and the female empowerment movement, it’s worth checking out this impressive, thoughtful, passionate, and well-run cause.
If nothing else, do a run in your area that supports Girls Gotta Run.
You will definitely get a sense of the community that the organization intends to give these girls and moms in Ethiopia.
Running brings people together and keeps morale high.
Cultivate this Positive Energy Around You
Most of us are likely privileged to have had the opportunity for school and directing our career and family paths.
I hope that everyone around the world can have that kind of community someday. I hope we can all be a part of an event, program, or community that shares so much wisdom when gathered.
It is a magical and life touching experience when everyone in the community is present, looking out for one another, doing their best, and feeling a connection to the greater whole.
This kind of community also inspires individuals to keep becoming their best selves and see bigger picture actions for their lives.
Share as Much as Possible
If you are blessed to have that in your life, pass it forward and think of these girls in Ethiopia.
Imagine how having education, community, athletics, and financial knowledge would open more possibilities than you’d ever seen or been able to hope for before.
To learn more about the organization, their success stories, current events, and how to get involved, visit the Girls Gotta Run Foundation website here.
Let me know how you decide to get involved or any additional questions you might have at my Instagram.
In the meantime, check out more on how impactful fitness and running can be for women with these articles: