Who knew running could change a life? In Ethiopia, girls are often forced to drop out of school to become wives and mothers. One way to avoid this path is to join a running team where they instead train to earn a living as an athlete. But running shoes can be hard to obtain in developing countries. Across the globe, aspiring athletes run without shoes or else give up the dream, unable to afford the luxury of running shoes. One World Running, an organization run completely by volunteers, works to bring running shoes to people in developing nations. OWR promotes fitness and health to the countries as well, creating awareness of the benefits of exercise.
In 1986, One World Running, then called Shoes for Africa, was started by sports journalist Mike Sandrock. After returning from a coaching and racing trip to Cameroon, Sandrock was struck by the barefoot Africans running faster than him in quality running shoes. Home in Boulder, Colorado, Sandrock and a number of other runners decided to send new and slightly used running shoes to West Africa. Today, One World Running’s volunteers collect and clean used running shoes, T-shirts and shorts in good condition to athletes and children in need around the world.
Sending shoes and athletic gear is not all that expensive. For $195, OWR can send roughly 50 pairs of shoes to Africa, or 100 pairs to Haiti or Central America. Most of the shoes come from shoe drives put on by running clubs or Girl Scout troupes. Shoes that are donated and are not in good enough condition to send are sent to Nike headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon, where the shoes are ground up to make running tracks and playgrounds for schools.
Like TOMS shoes, One World Running offers volunteers the chance to go and distribute the shoes in another country. This spring, March 21-29, OWR is giving the chance to go to Belize to deliver shoes, participate in service projects at local schools, and help put on a race. Check out OWR’s website for more information about this trip.
Though the organization itself doesn’t focus on the social problems of women in Africa, this is a big issue that can be solved through OWR. Emily Latta, featured in Runner’s magazine, collected used running shoes last fall to help the women of Ethiopia specifically. The nine-year-old from Virginia sent 91 pairs through OWR.
Ethiopian men have long dominated the sport of running, winning plenty of Olympic medals and producing some of the fastest runners in the world. In the last ten years, however, women have started producing notable runners as well. Today, seven of the ten top-earning athletes in Ethiopia are supposed to be held by women. Ethiopian girls have become inspired by these incredible women athletes. Girls are now straying from the traditional role of wife and mother and aspiring to become runners. Another reason girls are starting to run in Ethiopia is to avoid harassment from men. Being physically fit makes the girls seem stronger and therefore make them less susceptible to be bothered by men. Girls also have a better chance at staying in school if they run. School is top priority for many girl runners, hoping to avoid having to drop out and learn the domestic skills women are expected to perform. To the girls of Ethiopia, running is much more than a hobby or extracurricular activity. For this reason, organizations like One World Running can really make a difference and be considered a cool cause.