Joseph, our fearless founder and inspiration, is a living testimony to the positive effect that both education and athletics can have on youth. An Ethiopian immigrant in Canada, Joseph’s outstanding running talent earned him a full scholarship to Simon Fraser University (SFU) in British Columbia. While at SFU, Joseph demonstrated not only his academic abilities, but also his athletic prowess in long-distance running, becoming the Canadian cross-country running champion in 1993. After graduation in 1996, Joseph launched NetNation Communications, Inc., a Vancouver-based web hosting company that reached a market value peak of of 223 million USD with him at its helm. He has since returned to Ethiopia with his family and continued to develop various businesses and charities in his home country. Joseph’s business acumen and desire to bring success to Ethiopia, together with his background in athletics, make an ideal candidate to lead the Yaya Girls Program.
Xavier Curtis is the Executive Director of the Yaya Girls Running Program, overseeing its day-to-day operations, strategic planning, staffing, promotional outreach and fundraising. He helped launch the Program shortly after his arrival to Addis Ababa in April 2012, and has played a central role since then in framing and implementing its goal and objectives. He is a U.S. and Chilean citizen, having completed undergraduate studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, receiving a Bachelor of Arts, Political Science and Economics, with a Certificate in Environmental Studies. While there, he served as president of two large environmental student groups, founding one of them.
As a social entrepreneur, Xavier’s work with those student groups, Yaya Girls, and via other endeavors has involved identifying and pursuing innovative solutions to social problems – creating and sustaining social value while adapting and learning, and drawing on the best approaches in both the corporate, public, and non-profit worlds. He loves working with the Yaya Girls and like-minded groups and individuals on projects and activities that benefit gender equality, social justice, health and the environment, while simultaneously providing language, job and athletic skills that help deserving young women achieve successful and secure livelihoods.
Currently Xavier continues to be involved in the day-to-day Program management and in fundraising for the Yaya Girls. He lives in Addis and is also the co-founder and CFO of AddisEats food tour company.
Coach Ayu creates and oversees the Yaya Girls’ daily training. He has a degree in Sports Science from Addis Ababa University and was an accomplished runner himself in the 5k to half marathon distances. Coach Ayu coaches many athletes, including guests at the Yaya Hotel, the local Yaya Athletics Sports Club, and the six Yaya Girls.
Every day when the Yaya Girls are out on their morning run Yoordanos arrives at the Yaya kitchen making sure a healthy breakfast is waiting for them upon return. More than just the Yaya Girls full-time cook, Yoordanos stands out as the most motivated English student who is always eager to learn more. She has been with the Yaya Girls for almost a year and makes savory and nutritious food for the Yaya Girls and staff. Her dark injera is highly coveted in the Yaya community and she is always looking to comply with the tastes and desires of the girls.
Coordinator/Independent Researcher: Hannah Borenstein
After a transformative experience last summer, Hannah is returning to Ethiopia. During June-August of 2013 she stayed with the Yaya Girls after receiving a research grant from New York University (where she was also a member of the cross country and track and field teams) to do an anthropological study about gender, running, and empowerment, in the context of Ethiopia. Despite it being the rainy season, she found the Yaya Girls a comforting space for women to share their stories and talk about topics that were not always culturally acceptable to converse about. The interviews conducted led to a senior honors thesis entitled, “Crossing, Gender, Class, and Finish Lines” and ultimately to a subsequent research grant, enabling her to return to strengthen her knowledge on the subject of female running in Ethiopia, as well as assist in continuing development of the program.
For the next trimester Hannah will be helping Banchi facilitate the GOAL Curriculum, assist in English teaching, pioneer a profit-driven mushroom farm, make connections with the Yaya Girls Program and local organizations, and of course, continue her research. She hopes with a little more time spent in the country, a little more Amharic learned, and a little more injera eaten, she’ll be able to write a compelling narrative about the unique struggles that often go undocumented in narratives about Ethiopian athletes.
Special skills: juggling
Program Coordinator: Meseret Kassegne
Born in Agarfa in the Bale Region Meseret grew up in many different places, experiencing different cultures in Ethiopia. She attended Haramaya University in Harar from 2002-2007 where she earned a degree in Law.
Since finishing her education, Meseret has wasted no time at all in immersing herself in meaningful jobs, trying to make a difference in Ethiopia. Following graduation she began working for a World Bank project in Dire Dawa. She then spent time in Gode, Somalia, working for an S.O.S. Children’s Village. After some time she worked as liaison officer for a private organization and after some times she moved to North Wollo working with Ethiopian Orthodox Church Development in partnership with Dan Church Aid as a project manager. Eventually Meseret moved to the frigid Oslo, Norway, for a year, to work as a Gender Peace officer in a Norwegian Church Aid Organization. When she returned to Ethiopia she had a child, and stayed at home for the first 3 years of her daughter’s life to raise her – all the while doing side work translating, transcribing, and event organization to support her new family., while assisting on reach out projects as a volunteer. She was also selling the famous Ethiopia chicken stew, dorowat, to customers both Ethiopian and ex-pat to take home with them when they’re leaving Ethiopia to earn extra income.
She has now come to Yaya. Her parents are taking care of her daughter in Nazareth (100km from Addis), where they live, Monday – Friday, while she commits herself fully to the program. On the weekends Meseret goes back to Nazareth and teaches her daughter both Amharic and English, ensuring she’s receiving a valuable education both in and outside of school. Meseret brings both a wealth of experience in the field of development, as well as a range of perspectives having seen numerous parts of Ethiopia and the world. She’ll be in charge of running all of the major operations at Yaya and is excited to get wrapped into the running world as well.