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Running Providing Hope for Impoverished Ethiopians

Posted March. 06, 2009 03:11,   


“Running itself is hope in this country.”

A Dong-A Ilbo reporter flew yesterday to a small town in Arsi, a city about 200 kilometers southeast of the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa. Young marathoner Sintayehu Tolossa, 15, lives in a shabby house made of tree branches.

He sleeps, studies and eats with his grandmother and sister in his tiny room. The mud floor is covered by cloth bags.

Tolossa, however, dreams of becoming a world-class marathoner. He is one of the young marathoners getting support from the Hope Ethiopia Project launched in April last year by the Dong-A Ilbo in collaboration with the international charity group World Vision.

○ Marathon of hope

At 6:30 a.m., Tolossa and his friend Mespin Baju loosen themselves up for an early run.

Around 10 children including Tolossa get two hours of training every morning from 7 a.m. Several must run five kilometers to come to the training center.

Before training, the children clad in blue uniforms warm up meticulously for an hour.

Though still young, they exhibit their superb running abilities, living up to the reputation of the town that produced Haile Gebrselassie, the holder of several world marathon records.

They dart through a meadow like ancient hunters chasing wild animals. Though running at full speed as if chasing prey, they adjust their speed to control their breath and keep pace with fellow runners like professional marathoners.

The main purpose of the project is to provide systematic marathon training for children in Ethiopia. The project also seeks to help townspeople improve agricultural production to provide the young marathoners with sufficient food.

○ Beating poverty via running

Tolossa quit his job as a shoeshine boy after the Ethiopian government banned child labor. He now draws water to help his grandmother, who sells beverages.

For his part, Baju assists his mother in selling onions after training. Though his single mother asked him to concentrate on training, he could not afford to do so. Baju`s mother earns 60 dollars a month to support her five children.

Tolossa and Baju will run the Ethiopia Hope Marathon Friday co-sponsored by the Dong-A Ilbo, World Vision and a state government in Ethiopia.

The two said in chorus, “For us, running is our hope and happiness.”

For Ethiopian children, running is play as well as the fastest way to gain fame and fortune.

Tolossa heartily welcomed the reporter and bowed, saying “amesege`nallo` (Thank you).”

His grandmother said she prays for her grandson to make it as a marathoner and find his parents, with whom he was separated as a young boy.

Along with the 70 children in uniform, some 100 malnourished children gathered and watched the young marathoners with envy. Some of them ran with the marathoners.

One boy who came to see the training said, “I hope the young marathoners win medals at the Olympics and make our town a better place to live.”

Tolossa is running to fulfill the dreams of his family and friends. Because every step is a means to facilitate their dreams, he said he does his utmost when he runs.

“When I run, I feel my hope is gradually approaching me. I really thank Koreans for their help and interest,” he said.

Those who want to support the project can visit the Dong-A Marathon homepage at marathon.donga.com or call World Vision Korea at (02) 784-2004.