“We want to help tenacious, goal orientated girls and women use running as a launching pad to wider successes”.

The Girls Gotta Run Foundation (GGRF) invests in Ethiopian girls who use running and education to empower themselves and their communities.

According to Unicef 1.6 million primary and secondary age girls in Ethiopia are out of school. 75% of secondary age girls do not attend their education. Add to this the long history of gender inequality in the second most populous country in Africa.

Fast Running spoke to GGRF executive director Kayla Nolan. We spoke about the fantastic programmes being run and the challenges in the current world pandemic. Importantly we also asked how any of us can directly support the lives of our fellow runners.

Where it all began

Back in 2006 Dr. Patricia E. Ortman started “a humble project simply trying to provide athletic gear to tenacious women who were using running to pursue their goals and education,” says Nolan.

The GGRF website is a wealth of information about the project and it’s history but initially the project raised funds through sponsorship and art to help with the kit needed. It’s not just kit, but also money for the extra food needed to support young athletes, for coaches and other incidental costs associated with being a young runner.

“The average age of marriage in some of our program locations in Ethiopia is 14. Initially we were working with college and high school aged girls, but we saw that we had the biggest impact on the younger athletes.”

By working with girls at ages like 12 or 13 there was a greater opportunity to keep them within education, thus helping them pursue goals that would otherwise be lost to them if they left school early.

Nolan was brought in around 2012 when the foundation had grown to a point where it could no longer just be run by volunteers. “I spent four years in Ethiopia and we built the programmes around the community needs”.

This is something that is apparent throughout our interview and the GGRF website. It’s not about pushing a charity and it’s ideals onto a group that needs help, but asking the girls and their families what can be done.

Photo: Girls Gotta Run Foundation

The programmes

It’s not just about running. There are four distinct programmes around education, running, life skills, and savings and entrepreneurship. “We evolved with the communities and tried to build solutions that are effective” says Nolan.

“Take the recent COVID-19 pandemic. We have had to adapt and find new ways to deliver critical programming for the GGRF community. We are continuing to provide school lunches, soap and sanitary pads, hand washing stations, life skills programming, and small business loans and grants for women. School is more than a place to get an education, it is also a service delivery location. With school closures, we have had to get creative with how and where we can safely deliver critical programming”

“Safe spaces are needed for these girls” and it is school that usually provides this. “It’s a space to talk about their goals, worries, and everyday life with peers and a female mentor.”

“The weekly life lessons workshops follow monthly themes which cover subjects like healthy communication, environmental studies, financial literacy, HIV/AIDs, and more.”

One of the programmes is directly targeted at helping the mothers of these girls to build their own businesses and promote their own entrepreneurship. During the COVID-19 pandemic the GGRF is still delivering the key programmes, but also helping out with small business grants so people can stay afloat.

Photo: Girls Gotta Run Foundation

Running empowerment

In Ethiopian households the names of the top female athletes like Deratu Tulu, Tirunesh and Genzebe Dibaba and Almaz Ayana are all well known. “These women are role models for the next generation of girls making an impact in running and in the greater Ethiopian society as a whole.”

“Becoming a professional athlete at the international level is challenging in any country but it is a particularly difficult path for women in Ethiopia. There are many factors outside your control that can limit your success in the running industry such as injury, corruption, lack of education, racial and gender bias, harassment, and more.”

Which is why GGRF isn’t just about helping young women become professional athletes. “Girls who are pursuing professional athleticism are goal orientated and tenacious. At GGRF, we work with girls who are looking to create change in their lives. We think running should open more doors than it closes and we work everyday to make that a reality.”

“Before entering our program, many of the girls we work with don’t see themselves as being able to finish school. Perhaps they didn’t have a role model that finished school that they could emulate. Maybe they don’t have access to a community which supports their educational goals.

Running can be a catalyst for girls to see themselves as changemakers in their lives, achieving things they never thought possible. For some, it can help them redefine what is possible in their lives and what they can achieve in their education.

Photo: Girls Gotta Run Foundation

How to support

What initially brought my attention to Girls Gotta Run was sports masseuse and friend Simon Lamb’s social media. Big hearted Lamb, who is re-establishing his popular Six Seconds High clinic, paired up his own fundraising with supporting a GGRF scholarship.

And it’s that simple. Just US$600 per year or $50/month will support a young Ethiopian woman and her mother.

It will help her continue education and her running journey, but also build life skills far and beyond the athletic arena.

There are wonderful young women who you can directly support. “At the moment, we are working to direct funds towards the GGRF COVID-19 Emergency Relief Program, providing critical resources for girls and women in Ethiopia. $600 or $50/month USD can ensure that a girl and her family are able to access the resources they need to build a future of their choosing.”

Girls Gotta Run Foundation isn’t just supporting the next generation of Ethiopian female athletes. It’s “investing in girls and women as change-makers in their lives and communities at the grassroots level.”

“Each year of education a girl completes catalyzes change for her future, her family, and her community. Education for girls means income, health, and agency for girls and their communities.

Every additional year of school a girl completes increases her future earnings by 10-20%. That’s a smart investment”.

This is about more than just running. Get involved today.