Ethiopian girls run for their lives

For girls in the African country, running provides a means to escape poverty, and control their own destinies.

By Hillary Frey

Published December 29, 2005 1:31PM (EST)

The Washington Post has a truly awesome story today about Ethiopian girls who are running - literally - to improve their lives. For years Ethiopia has been producing some of the most accomplished runners, though women have only begun to compete - and win - at the same level as men. But now, girls are catching the craze, realizing that running is not only fun and a practical skill (fast girls can outrun boys and men who might harass or attack them) but it might also offer a path toward controlling one's destiny.

The article is mostly a profile of one girl in Addis Ababa, 13- year old Tesdale Mesele, who trains for hours everyday  her "warmup" speed is an 8-minute mile! -- while attending school and helping with family chores. She lives with her older sister in the city, and hopes to one day attract a running club and earn a small sponsorship. In the meantime, running will help her avoid early marriage and stay in school. As reporter Emily Wax writes, "In Ethiopia, getting an education is a true marathon: Girls' enrollment is among the lowest in the world, and women and girls are more likely to die in childbirth than reach sixth grade, according to UNICEF."

And parents see the benefits, too. Female runners who earn money are a benefit to their families, so even traditional parents can be supportive of their daughters, who might be better equipped to take care of them and other children as professional athletes. One professional runner, Meseret Defar, earned so much money that she is now putting her two brothers through school. Running also allowed her to delay having children and marry a man of her choosing.

To all the girl runners in Ethiopia, Broadsheet says: Just do it!

Hillary Frey

Hillary Frey is the Books editor at Salon.

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