Two months ago the Yaya Girls Running Program launched with a 6 Km race to select its first class of Yaya Girls. As the project has grown so has our social media platform and today we are excited to launch the Yaya Girls Blog. We will provide updates every 7-10 days covering what is happening with the girls and the program. We hope to keep blog pieces short at between 500-800 words.
In the lead up to the 6 Km event, on August 19th 2012, the Yaya Girls team networked with local media to help promote the program. The event was a great success with fifty girls competing in the race. We even had EBS TV, a hugely popular Ethiopian TV channel, based in Silver Spring, MD filming and covering the event. The Sports Director at EBS hopes to eventually create a one hour documentary detailing the program’s growth and following graduates from the program as they realise new opportunities.
On Sunday the 19th girls started showing up at Yaya Village early in the morning to warm up for the race. Some girls arrived individually, some with coaches and some were in groups but almost all the girls tiptoed around not exactly sure what was happening. Most amazingly, Meseret who placed first in the race, arrived on the scene just as coach Melaku was about to sound the whistle to start the race. We gave Meseret an extra couple minutes to take off her sweats, tie her shoes and then straight to the start line she went.
Only after the whistle sounded did Joseph recount that he once showed up to a race seconds before the gun went off. The start was delayed for him and he ended up placing first so he felt compelled to allow Meseret a fair chance.
Unlike most races, which have a prize pool for the winners, we were offering entrance to a program. The program was yet to launch and for most of the girls was a concept that was hard to grasp. The project is focused on helping girls become competitive runners but also provides them with intense English tutoring, job-skills training and full room and board. Ultimately it is a project that will enable graduates to be successful, self-reliant women who can act as role-models for girls throughout Ethiopia.
For most Yaya graduates success will come from something outside of running and athletics. However, relaying this fact to young runners is much easier said than done. I think many of us can remember being 15, 16 or 17 and thinking that somehow we would make it on some level athletically. Well I at least know I kept convincing myself that a couple more hours in the gym, or at a golf lesson or at the batting cages were my ticket to a University scholarship. Yeah… that never happened but for a while I was sure it would.
As the project is in its pilot phase the management team is wide-eyed and attentive, trying to learn as much as we can. We are all still exploring the best ways of explaining that running is just one tool that can lead to success in life. We’ve learned that at the next race the main driving force in recruiting girls and promoting the event will be to feature a prize pool. Daniel, the girls English teacher, is learning that it is not so easy to teach English to girls who have for most of their life put academics on the back burner while focusing on running and providing food for themselves and their families. Learning these valuable lessons is essential to turn the amazing potential of the program into a reality.
The Yaya Girls Running Program has access to great facilities, provided by the Yaya Village Hotel: world class coaching, an amazing network of sponsors and collaborators (profiles of our sponsors will be included in upcoming blog posts) and, importantly, talented girls throughout the country who want a fighting chance. The pilot phase, which runs from September to December, is an exciting time for everyone involved in the Yaya Girls project as we learn how to best craft the program for future success. We hope you stay tuned and follow our progress as we move forward with the project!