Girls Gotta Run: Meet the Girls

By Audrey Kallenberger — / The Biz

Run Like a Girl

POV: You are 12 years old, and you must make a decision that will affect the rest of your life. More specifically, the choice you must make: Should I go to school or get married?  

Not a lot of opportunities exist for girls in Ethiopia, and by age 12, many of them must choose marriage, at a far too young age, over pursuing an education that could pave the way towards independence and sustainability. Running offers another path. 

A group of Ethiopian girls running through farmland in Soddo, Ethiopia.[Photo Provided by: Falcon Coffees]

Our latest coffee is inspired by running like a girl, and you can understand why. Amidst a backdrop of ongoing regional civil war and famine, a group of Ethiopian girls chooses to wake early—and to go running. More specifically, these teenage girls are running multiple, consecutive, 5-minute miles over rough terrain to qualify for championship titles and Olympic medals. (For context, the average noncompetitive, relatively in-shape runner usually completes one mile in about 9 to 10 minutes.) In short, these girls inspire us to do better each day—and in every way. 

Girls Gotta Run Foundation (GGRF) invests in girls who use running and education to empower themselves and their communities in Ethiopia. Meet some of the incredible girls who have trained in Soddo and Bekoji, Ethiopia—near the birthplace of coffee and the farming region of Yirgacheffe.

A headshot of a Zelelam, a young girl in the Girls Gotta Run program. Photo provided by: Falcon Coffees.

Trailblazing Zelelam 

Hailing from Soddo, Zelelam has blazed a path by attending university, while studying English and math—her favorite subjects. She looks forward to continuing her college education in accounting and hopes to help her country when she graduates.  

Zelelam is 20 years old and completing her first year at university. She lives in Soddo with her parents and seven siblings.

A headshot of Hana from the Girls Gotta Run Foundation.

Hopeful Hana 

Hana loves studying English most, and she dreams of being a teacher when she grows up. In Bekoji, she helps her mother sell injera, Ethiopian fermented flatbread, at the market to support her family. Hana’s mother completed adult literacy classes with the other GGRF mothers and has enjoyed learning new ways to empower herself and her family. 

Hana is 17 years old and in the 9th grade.

A headshot of Emmanet, a student in the Girls Gotta Run program. Image provided by: Falcon Coffees.

Empathetic Emmanet 

Residing in Bekoji—the birthplace of multiple Olympic gold medal winners—Emmanet’s favorite subject in school is science. She hopes to study chemistry at university and to be a runner when she grows up. Emmanet’s mother, who sells produce in the local markets, explains, “Education for girls is very important. It can change their lives because they get different kinds of knowledge and experiences.” 

Emmanet is 15 years old and in the 8th grade.

A headshot of Sisay, an athlete in the Girls Gotta Run program. Image provided by: Falcon Coffees.

Driven Sisay 

Bekoji-born Sisay has a love for studying biology in school, and she is working towards being a doctor when she grows up. In her free time, she puts in extra running miles with her neighborhood friends. Sisay takes the initiative to help her family with housework when she is not running. Her mother explains, “Our family gets different advantages from the [Girls Gotta Run] program like clothes, food and tutorials. The savings group is helpful too. Thank you for this support.”  

Sisay lives in Bekoji with her mother, four sisters and three brothers. She is 15 years old and in the 8th grade.

A headshot of Merawit, a young girl in the Girls Gotta Run foundation. Photo provided by: Falcon Coffees.

Motivated Merawit 

Based in Soddo, Merawit’s GGRF scholarship inspired her parents to finish their educations, helping the family by keeping their children in school and a roof over their heads, while empowering Merawit to become a strong student and leader. “Merawit has been advising me to continue my education and says that by learning, we will change our lives,” her mother says. “I hope for bigger things for Merawit. After achieving her goal, I hope that she could, in turn, support others.” 

Merawit lives in Soddo with her mother and four siblings. She is in the 11th grade. 

A young girl in front of an Ethiopian landscape who is enrolled in the Girls Gotta Run prorgam.

Brave Berhane 

Berhane is a physician-in-training—her favorite subject in school is science, and she is hoping to become a doctor when she grows up. When she’s not running and studying, this Bekoji-born athlete helps her mom with chores to understand how to better manage her time and run her own household one day.  

Berhane lives in Bekoji with her mom and four siblings. She is 17 years old and in the 8th grade.

A headshot of Beshadu, a young girl in the Girls Gotta Run program.

Bold Beshadu 

With strong interests in math, English and biology, Beshadu hopes to be a nurse when she grows up. In her free time, Beshadu likes to run with her friends in her neighborhood. After her father passed away, her mom began selling homemade, traditional drinks at the market to support their family. Beshadu’s mother is part of the GGRF Mother’s Savings Group and has been using the GGRF small grants program to build and expand her business. 

Beshadu lives in Bekoji with her mom and three siblings. She is 15 years old and in the 9th grade. 

A headshot of Tsegerada, a young girl in the Girls Gotta Run program. Image provided by: Falcon Coffees.

Changemaker Tsegereda  

Tsegereda’s favorite subjects in school are English and biology, and she aspires to be a doctor when she grows up. Her mother, Ayuntu, explains, “Education for girls is very important. You get different knowledge and skills from school. After Tsegereda completes her education, she can access different job opportunities.”  

Tsegereda is 15 years old and in the 10th grade.

A headshot of Firehiwote, a student enrolled in the Girls Gotta Run Foundation. Image provided by: Falcon Coffees.

Inspired Firehiwote  

Firehiwote was the first in her family to attend and complete high school. This accomplishment empowered Firehiwote’s mother to run a successful shop in their front yard and to keep track of the family’s earnings. They use earnings to buy more products for the shop, invest in seeds for their garden to grow food at home and send more of their children to school. 

When Firehiwote’s family first joined the program, they had planted a single coffee plant in their yard, the only plant they had, as a good luck wish for their family. Now the coffee plant is flourishing and a constant reminder of the good fortune they’ve cultivated for their family. 

Firehiwote lives with her parents and five siblings in a small house her family built in Soddo. She is 14 and in the 6th grade.

The running coach, Fatia from the Girls Gotta Run foundation. Image provided by: Falcon Coffees

Pioneer Fatia 

As the first female coach in Bekoji, Ethiopia, Fatia has been coaching with GGRF for the better part of a decade. A former 400-meter champ, Fatia ran competitively as an adult and now works hard to coach and develop the next generation of elite runners—an all-female team of GGRF Athletic Scholars. Fatia explains, “At first, I pursued running because I wanted to chase away poverty, create an opportunity for myself and make my country proud. I want to share the knowledge that I have, as I feel that’s the right thing to do. I can help the girls reach their potential.” 

When reflecting on her important role as a GGRF coach and mentor, Fatia adds, “It is important that I am female. [The girls and I] are free to discuss every issue together. I advise them about training, education and life. When something bad happens in their life, like they are approached by a man [who wants] to be their boyfriend, I advise that this is not right…. I advise them to have confidence, to be free to be female, to believe that we can do everything, to change our lives.” 

You can support a girl and her mother for a year here and learn about other ways to empower the next generation of Olympic runners from Ethiopia. Learn more about Girls Gotta Run and the blend we brewed to give back to coffee-farming regions and communities like Yirgacheffe, Ethiopia.  

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