Since returning from Ethiopia, I’ve been swamped with re-entry projects. Getting the remaining Ethiopian school projects off the ground along with getting caught up here at Food For Thought have been eating up the hours. So there’s been little time to do any writing since my return. Fortunately for me, Chris Treter of Higher Grounds Coffee, idea guy for Run Across Ethiopia and founder of On The Ground, has just written a wonderful blog post summarizing the highlights of the run. Chris and I traveled to Ethiopia three times since January 2010 to make this event happen and he was the critical partner that made it possible. So I don’t think I could have said it any better than he has here.
Reflecting back on an effort that had the support of 9 other runners, a board of directors and volunteers at On the Ground, a dozen drivers, translators, organizers in Ethiopia and over 800 individuals, corporations, foundations, organizations, schools, and churches which all worked together to reach all of our fundraising and running goals, I can’t help but be astonished! In addition to funding the construction of three schools, funds were used to support a school lunch program in one of the most impoverished areas of the capital city, Addis Ababa. Street children will also get informal education thanks to the funding of the Gorumsa Project – which is supporting runners from Team Tesfa to educate homeless children in the capital city of Addis Ababa. Just as important, On the Ground has made long term relationships to continue work in various communities throughout Ethiopia.
It is hard to verbalize my favorite memories. Thanks to the runners, media team (many videos brought to you by Jacob Wheeler and his immersion journalism and James and Jamaica Weston Lynn from Weston Films) and Bill Paladino (OTG ED), many of them are documented in blogs and video! Here are some of those memories with direct links to the experience.Celebrating Ethiopian Christmas with a concert by Seth and May at Mother Theresa’s Home for the Dying and Destitute was the first of many moving moments of the expedition. We wanted to ensure that before the run started that runners, support crew, and media team would be cognizant of the level of poverty and its effects on the population. Like any country, an excellent gauge of the level of poverty and lack of a country’s health care resources is by examining what takes place to the forgotten in the capital city. There is no better place to look to and support then the Missionaries of Charity, Home for the Dying and Destitute, which help those on the street with serious illness.
Before the run, we visited the Tesfa funded kindergarten, the Oromia Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union headquarters and we took the runners up to the Entoto Mountains, by far my favorite place in the world to go for a jog. We took a quick hour jog through the forests and pastures of the famed locale where some of Ethiopia’s best runners, including Derartu Tulu, the first black African woman to win an Olympic gold medal and Haile Gebrselassie, the marathon world record holder train regularly. About midway through the run we spotted about a dozen baboons who we joined, err… chased… through a eucalyptus forest. Later that night, Derartu joined us at our Opening Celebration hosted by Oromia Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union, our partners in purchasing our Ethiopian coffee beans.When the run was set to begin, it felt nothing short of a dream. After a rather tedious process of getting all runners, support team, drivers, and equipment in place and out to the starting point, we were met by a couple dozen of our Ethiopian counterparts, including Olympic gold medal 5000 meter winner, Million Wolde. Seth Bernard got the dozens of people together in a circle to say an opening prayer then Timothy Young set us on our way to Yrgacheffe.
Each mornings began with a simple breakfast at the break of dawn and a word from one of the runners. After a quick word, we started right at dawn to avoid the packs of heinas that roamed in the night and to try to get done running before the midday sun. Throughout the expedition, young ethiopian children would join us from town to town. Eventually, some of the runners led them in their favorite chants or taught simple school lessons. The end of each days’ run was usually accompanied by dozens of locals bewildered by the spectacle of a bunch of foreigners running through their village. The children would inevidently join the high fives that accompanied the end of a run and the runners did their best to entertain the children as they stretched.
Running, (sometimes up to 30 miles a day) brought to runners what Hans Voss coined, a "pain party," in their bodies. But, having our families and friends join us for part of the run and the music of Seth and May at the beginning of a days’ run and at food breaks (check 2:45 of the video for a beautiful interaction with the help of the Beatles) helped us forget all the pain. Coming across interesting and amusing moments, such as stopping by the headquarters of the 12 Tribes of Israel (the rastafarian colony) or watching Nigel lip sync on the bus also helped. But key to keeping the runners going was Coach Dan Zemper, Bizuayehu, and the work of the crew to bring nutrition and medical support to the runners while helping us avoid injury. However, from time to time, some runners had to take a break from the running to prevent serious injury.
After 9 days of running we had entered the coffee growing region of Sidama. The team saw first hand why they had dedicated so much time to training, fundraising and participating in the run when we visited the community of Hase Gola a day later. The coffee growing community greeted us with a huge celebration of song, dance, and speeches to commemorate the run and construction of a secondary school funded by the Run Across Ethiopia. One of my favorite moments of the whole expedition was to watch Bizuayehu dancing with the Hase Gola choir as the crowd quickly joined the dancing and singing.
The final day saw us entering the community of Afursa Waro, a community of a couple thousand and home to the Negele Gorbitu coffee cooperative where we purchase the beans for our Ethiopian Yrgacheffe Light Roast. After our ritual of opening words and music we headed out for our final 6 miles. With four teachers from the school in Afursa Waro, other roasters from Cooperative Coffees, family, friends, and local villagers, we traversed down a dirt road through villages dotted with coffee trees until we reached the school at Afursa Waro.As we approached there were thousands awaiting our arrival. They ushered us in around a stage where we finished the run and took in the gravity of the moment. The community of Afursa Waro and the Oromia Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union held a ceremony in which they honored runners with the clothing of the regional elders. Local musicians also performed traditional music for everyone.
Much thanks to all who made this happen. Without the support of the hundreds who made this possible we would never have been able to reach our goals! The Tesfa Foundation and Oromia Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union who helped organize the expedition, all of the volunteers at On the Ground, and the nearly thousand people who donated to the cause (including events at Food for Thought, Pangea’s Pizza, Crema, Little Bo’s, Global Village Collective, and many more organizations!) showed that international solidarity is not only possible but a viable way to make real social change!
Written by Chris Treter