In Ethiopia, long-distance runners are heroes. Every year hundreds of teenage girls come to Addis Ababa from the surrounding regions to train as athletes, hoping to escape poverty through their talent. At the least, they hope for education and employment in the capital city. The majority of them have no friends or family to support them. Many of these girls will be victims of abuse. Many will be forced into labor like servitude in order to survive. In Addis Ababa, more than 30 per cent of girls aged 10-14 are not living with their parents. Twenty per cent of these have run away from child marriages. Twelve per cent of adolescents aged 10-14 surveyed in Addis Ababa were domestic workers.
Team Tesfa is a powerful medium for reaching these girls. It becomes a support structure in a dangerous and alienating environment. It provides vulnerable young girls with the skills and confidence to lift themselves out of poverty and become self reliant models for other women.
A sample of innovative Team Tesfa programs over the years to support young athletes:
The Women Athletes for Literacy and Learning (WALL) Program places young athletes in schools and school libraries to assist and to mentor children. With training and support from Tesfa Foundation staff in Addis Ababa, women athletes lead reading circles in primary school libraries and classrooms. They lead in the formation of book clubs. They assist school staff. Women athletes get a chance to see themselves in a different light. That provide confidence and motivation in their own education. Many are still finishing primary or secondary grade levels in night school. They gain work experience in a new and challenging environment, and they will be mentored by professional women.
Teen House: We discovered early in working among the athletes that the most vulnerable among their number were, not surprisingly, the teenage girls. They are quietly dedicated to their training, living out daily lives in dangerous circumstances, committed to that opportunity for education or success that never comes. The teen house was established in 2008 as an environment for four teens (ages 14-18) to have safe shelter and education, a chance to train and acquire the education and skills to make their lives better as adults, while they get to train with the team, and -- more importantly -- giving them an opportunity to live without fear. They live together in the house, go to school, and spend their afternoons training with the team and also training in the sewing program. We are working on building a program in which alumni from the teen program take turns running a small, resident NGO or charity that administers to the needs of the new teens and the women of Team Tesfa. This program is called the 'Transitions' program. More news on this soon!
Work Skills: Our ideal is to provide our athletes with the tools and dignity to run for love of the sport, rather than from a desperate drive to survive. One key is education. Another is vocational skills. In one recent program, five women athletes were trainedin marketable computer and design skills while working on real-world projects for the Twin-Cities firm of Bond and Devick.
In another pilot, women were trained in sewing and embroidery skills.
Tsege, in the photo to the left, was trained for one year in a tailor's course. She then trained the teens and other athletes. Once they have consolidated their skills and have generated a line of sample products, we plan to set up a market stall where they can sell their work, profiting in self-confidence as much as in coin.
The Gorumsa Project: One of the joys of working with athletes is that they understand goal-setting and self-discipline. In our 2011 pilot project, we matched young men from Team Tesfa with teenage boys from the street, boys without work, without school, without opportunity, in workplace situations in which these young boys learn workplace skills and gain in the self-confidence that they can earn a living, while at the same time the athletes learn management skills, and gain the insight that they can be leaders.