Meron Tamen is a bright-eyed 12 year-old in the 7th grade at the Abba Pascal School for Girls in Sodo, Ethiopia.
Earlier this year, she was selected to be in a new school athletics team with 14 other girls, as part of a pilot project run by the Girls Gotta Run Foundation. Besides learning about health and fitness, and training for running meets, the girls also go through a life skills program which teaches them about nutrition, family planning, financial literacy, leadership and other issues. Each girl gets a scholarship which helps lessen the financial burden on their families so they can stay in school and complete their education. The scholarships take care of daily meals, snacks, running gear, school uniforms, hygiene supplies, books and tutoring, and even cover healthcare for the girls and their mothers.
Like many others her age, Meron has big dreams. Her favourite subject is chemistry and when she grows up she wants to be a pharmacist, she says. She loves running and school, and at 12, can already glimpse a future for herself that’s different from her mum, who was married at 17 and had her first child, Meron’s sister Kidist, at 19.
Ethiopia has one of the highest rates of early marriage in the world, with one in two girls marrying before her 18th birthday, and one in five before the age of 15 (UNFPA). Due to cultural traditions and poverty, girls are often pulled out of school to get married and typically give birth within the year. One in 22 women in sub-Saharan Africa die from complications related to pregnancy and childbirth, and because of their age, young girls are even more at risk. Young women are less likely to receive good pre- and post-natal care, and the maternal and infant death rate for girls aged 15-19 is twice as high as for women in their 20s.
Meron’s mother Abinehbech is very supportive of her daughters’ education. She wants them to have opportunities she didn’t have. She finished school up to the 10th grade and went on to complete a 2 year technical course in computer science, but then got married soon after and lived in a small, rural community. She gave birth to both her daughters on her family’s farm without a midwife or birth attendant. A few years ago, after her husband passed away, she moved outside her rural village to Sodo, in the hopes of providing better educational opportunities for her girls. She now sells coffee and tea to a local dairy farm to support her family.
Learn more about the Girls Gotta Run Sodo Athletic Scholarship Program