Making a Difference in Ethiopia

Ethiopia Kids at Well

Never has Margaret Mead’s famous quote, “Never underestimate the power of a small, dedicated group of people to change the world; indeed, that is the only thing that ever has” been so accurately demonstrated in my life than in what a group of northern Michigan volunteers are doing with the project Run Across Ethiopia. It was only one year ago this month that a friend and I were sitting in a bar in Havana when he told me about an idea he had to run 250 miles across Ethiopia to raise $100,000 to build schools. That friend, Chris Treter, founder of Higher Grounds Trading Company, was looking for a way to go beyond Fair Trade; to give more back to the coffee growing region of Ethiopia where he purchases coffee for his company. The idea was just out-of-the-box-crazy enough and resonated perfectly with my company’s mission. Before I thought much more about it, I said, “I’m in. What can I do?” This was no beer infused bar banter. Forty days later we landed in Ethiopia. Shortly after that, On The Ground was incorporated and we convened our first board meeting in the Spring of this year. One year from that date in Havana, we have just returned from our second trip to Ethiopia, have raised over $80,000, just contracted two schools to be built and in another 40 days we’ll be returning with 10 US runners, musicians, journalists and film crew. Before the run is over, we will have funded a third school and a variety of other educational enhancement projects in Ethiopia. I am in awe of what our crew has pulled off in such a short period.

I can’t think of a better way to offer a flavor of this event than by sharing this email Chris sent to our team of runners, board members and volunteers as we were dodging cattle and potholes while driving back to Addis Ababa after a week of whirlwind organizing.

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“I’m writing this while riding back from Yirgacheffe as our van weaves between goat herds and donkey carts and gets into a cow traffic jam every now and again. We’ve left the Sidama huts behind and are careening down into the Great Rift Valley – hustling to meet up with the manager of a popular Ethio-jazz band to discuss collaboration with Seth and May, our musical ambassadors on this trip. We’ll also meet one more time with star of the documentary film, Black Gold, Tadesse Meskaala, director of the Oromia Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union (OCFCU). We’ll meet with Tadesse to discuss the funding of a new school and other components of the run his is helping us organize. Finally we’ll have dinner with our other partners, the Tesfa Foundation to recap logistics before I fly home tonight.

Timothy, Surafael (translator and logistics support in Ethiopia), Ayele (Representative from Oromia Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union), Belay (our driver), and I have just finished up an amazing three day adventure along the expedition route. It started with a 20 mile “dry” run – the first day’s leg of the event in January. Though dusty, hilly, congested and starting at about 8000 feet elevation, I was pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t too rough. We even had a built in cheering section throughout the run. It turns out that Ethiopians are pretty hip on seeing white people running down the road. They continuously clapped, gave the thumbs up, and honked their horns all the way to Debre Zeit.

Timothy diligently led us throughout the adventure mapping mileage, stopping in each town to check out amenities, and working on overall logistics in getting 10 American runners, 4-6 Ethiopian runners, 2 musicians, videographer, journalist, support crew, family, and 15 coffee roasters from Addis Ababa to Yrgacheffe over a 10 day period.?Yesterday we had two monumental meetings in the set-up for the Run.

We met with the teachers at Afursa Waro and presented them with cards that the 6th, 7th, and 8th, graders at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton had made for the children and discussed logistics for the final party. We also met with representatives of Negele Gorbitu, the fair trade, organic coffee cooperative that my company, Higher Ground Trading, buys from. We discussed the plan and they’ve excitedly agreed to work on logistics for the final celebration. Run Across Ethiopoia shirts were spread out receptively. Our other visit was to the Mose Greola School in the village of Asegora. A school of 960 students sharing just 7 small classrooms, with literally, as many children who can fit crammed into each classroom. This amounts to over 100 kids in a small room. The school serves 5 neighboring villages with over 800 families living in each village. With an average of 7 people in each household – that comes to a small 7 classroom 1st – 8th grade school serving a population of 28,000! Without added classrooms, many children can’t even attend school.

While classrooms are the most important issue – it is not the only. There is no bathroom – children must go in the woods. There is no water – the closest well is a 10 minute walk. There is no food –they find sugar cane in the fields to stave off hunger and thirst during the day. There is no housing for the teachers– they must walk 2 hours each day to school. There are very few school supplies and furnishings – the tiny first graders sit on branches of a tree propped into benches in their dirt floor classroom. When the rainy season starts, the floor of the school floods, and the rain falls through the holes in the ceiling and walls.

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Due to all of your hard work, this school will soon have 4 more classrooms. Over the next couple of months we will also continue to work with the community and OCFCU to look to fund more projects at the school.

And for that I want to thank all of you for making this and many other projects happen. When this idea was first conceived I never imagined how many people would pull together. Before our runners ever set foot in Ethiopia, the impact of your work is already being felt.

To date we have funded a kindergarten lunch program for 40- children in one of the worst neighborhoods of Addis Ababa, we’ve funded a street children program as part of the Tesfa Foundation, and we are beginning the work on 2 schools to be built in coffee growing communities. From training and fundraising, to organizing and educating to supporting the runners that are working hard to find the time out of their busy life to make this happen, I thank all of you. None of this would be possible if we did not take the time to do all the tedious work it takes to be able to make it a success. From processing sponsorships, and creating promotional materials, to answering emails and phone calls, to roasting coffee and serving people in the coffee bar, to organizing events, to making the “ask” to as many as possible, to educating people about the need for education in Ethiopia, to getting up early before work every morning to run, to supporting each other as we try to make this happen, I am very inspired by all of you!”

As am I, Chris. Well said.

If you would like to help our non-profit, On The Ground with this or other projects we support, please visit www.onthegroundglobal.org

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