This is the story of Merawit Metekia, a slip of a girl with an infectious smile and a whole lot of heart. Merawit has become an inspiration to her family, and living proof that when you educate a girl, the ripple benefits to families and communities can be invaluable.
At age 10, Merawit has just graduated from the Girls Gotta Run Foundation (GGRF) Athletic Scholar program in her home town of Sodo, Ethiopia. The three-year program was piloted at the Abba Pascal school for girls in Sodo in 2014, as an intervention initiative targeting adolescent girls at high risk of child marriage. Scholarships were provided to a first co-hort of 15 girls, who would train as runners, and undergo a life-skills course on important issues that affect their lives such as nutrition, healthy relationships, and financial literacy. The running team represents a ‘safe space’ where girls can focus on health and fitness, and get peer support to build their self-esteem, and ability to assert their right to choose when to marry. The scholarships help remove any financial burden the girls’ families may have, to keep them enrolled in school — US$600/year covers the cost of daily meals, uniforms, books and tutoring, access to school clubs/library, showers and hygiene supplies, and soap to wash clothes on the weekend. Also included is healthcare for the girls and their mothers, running gear, fees and transport to races during the year, and oversight by a coach and life-skills mentor.
Merawit and her 4 younger siblings live in a modest home about an hour’s walk from her school. Her father, Metekia Buche Selato, is an Orthodox Christian priest, and her mother, Roman Woldezelde, tends to their small home farm plot where they grow a little corn, coffee, false banana, and fruit, and raise chickens. Roman was married at 18 and had Merawit that same year. She stopped her education at Grade 8 to care for her family. Both she and her husband jumped at the chance to have Merawit become an athletic scholar. Metekia said he chose to put his daughters at Abba Pascal, a private school, despite barely being able to afford it. “We can’t afford private school but we have no choice because the government school does not create a positive environment for learning for girls. So we are very happy that Merawit has been selected for this program. She runs in the morning before school now, too.”
Merawit at running practice with her schoolmates
“Merawit has changed a lot (since joining the GGRF program),” said Roman. “She listens to us, she has improved in her education. Before her average in school was not good but now, she does well. I remember that because of finance (problems), I made her drop out of her former school. Providing her lunch was my other challenge. Now this problem has been solved.” Furthermore said Roman, “she shares with me what she brings from the project like soap. She gets lunch, clothes, uniform, soap, plenty to share with her sisters.”
Merawit’s mother explained how her daughter’s participation in the GGRF program inspired her and her husband to further their education, helped their family afford to keep their children in school, and helped Merawit grow into a strong student and leader. “After Merawit joined this project, my husband got inspired to get new education (and completed college). I continued my education and we put (Merawit’s) sister into school. Merawit has been advising me to continue my education and she would say that by learning we will change our lives. She would encourage me.” Roman went back to school and has completed grades 9 and 10, and is currently in grade 11. This is a significant achievement – the 11th and 12th grade is the equivalent of pre-college studies in Ethiopia – only a very small percentage of women complete this level of education in the country.
“I hope to do well in school and if I succeed, I will change the life of my family. I hope bigger things for Merawit. After achieving her goal, I hope that she could in turn support others.” “Also,” she added, “before, our house was not painted, it did not have a ceiling, we had only wooden chairs, we did not have doors. Now, the house has been painted, the ceiling has been made and we bought new chairs. There have been many changes.”
Metekia says that people in their small farming community are also being inspired by Merawit — many have come to him at his church to say how she’s grown and changed. Her physical and mental growth has made her a role model for others to start running and focus on school, he said.
[Good for Girls has been a proud partner of GGRF since 2014, when we helped them pilot the Athletic Scholarship program in Sodo. With the generous support of our donors, we have continued to partner with them, helping to expand the program to Bekoji. From 15 in 2014, today there are 100 girls on athletic scholarships!]
Merawit and her mother Roman Woldezelde
[All pictures courtesy of Girls Gotta Run Foundation].