By Julia Hanlon, Volée Ambassador 

I don’t cry often. In fact, I can count the amount of times I have cried on one hand during the past year. In the past two months though, I cried twice within the span of one week. I had just returned from one of the most challenging runs of my life. It was not a hard track session, long tempo run, or even a race, but instead a one hour run that turned into a two hour odyssey, after getting lost in an Ethiopian valley.


After finding my way back to the Yaya Village, I headed straight into the kitchen where I knew I would find some drinking water. Upon seeing the six Yaya Girls eating breakfast, I burst into tears. They motioned for me to sit down and were alarmed by the dirt, scratches, and blood on my legs. Without asking, the girls started cleaning the dirt and blood off my legs, prepared me breakfast, and held my hands.


Although we didn’t speak the same language, they could feel my exhaustion and fear. I repeated “dog” a few times and having recently taught them animal names in English class, they understood that a dog had attacked me as I pointed to the scratch marks on my legs. I reenacted a falling-forward motion as I signaled to my bloody knee. After being scrubbed and nourished, the girls tucked me into bed so that I could rest. I couldn’t fall asleep though. I was still shaken from being lost, attacked by a large dog, and suffering a hard fall. At the same time, I felt a sense of calm descending from the warmth of the girls as they took care of me in my fragile state. 

The Yaya Girls Program is a trimester school for six young female runners who spend 3 and a half months studying English, gender empowerment, and receive vocational training in Sululta, Ethiopia. The six girls ranged from ages 17-21 and were from Addis Ababa and its surrounding region. The Yaya Girls Program provides them with a unique opportunity to pursue their running at 8,858 feet, while also developing life and job skills.


Having only a brother, being the girls’ teacher, and unable to speak the same language as them, I did not expect to feel a sense of sisterhood. However, if I encapsulate the lessons I learned in Ethiopia into one statement, it would be, “have no expectations.” When you share three meals a day, run together, hear each other’s sheets rustle during the night, and see one another through daily highs and lows, sisterhood is formed. 


When I said goodbye to the six girls on my return home, I didn’t cry. I felt strange since they were all crying, yet my tears were not coming. After second and third rounds of hugging, I finally got into the waiting car and headed to the airport. As we drove away, tears started to stream down my face. I was leaving my six Ethiopian sisters, uncertain as to when I would see them again. Hardly an hour goes by when I don’t wonder what the Yaya Girls are doing— what are they eating for breakfast? How was their afternoon run? What new words are they learning in English class? Sisterhood transcends continents, language, and age. I can only imagine the happy tears that will come when I someday reunite with them. 

Visit the Yaya Girls Program to learn more, and watch the Yaya Girls in running action:

Additional information on Julia's blog: www.runningonom.com

January 12, 2015 — kristin

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