It's the International Day Of The Girl, and we're sitting down with Girls Gotta Run Executive Director, Kayla Nolan, to learn more about how they're using running and education to transform a community, one girl at a time!
Meg: Tell us about Girls Gotta Run? How did you come to know the cause?
Kayla: I first got to know GGRF when I went to Ethiopia in 2009 on a research grant. I had the privilege of talking with the some of the girls as well as many other female athletes throughout Ethiopia. I listened to the girls describe their stories of perseverance in both athletics and in life. Some stories you are fortunate enough to bear witness to, others you share with the world, but some are so unique and moving that you can’t just recount them. You feel compelled to take action.
M: How do you help?
K: Over the past few years, I’ve worked with GGRF to listen to what girls define as the challenges and opportunities they are facing in Ethiopia. We designed a program for and by girls that provides the resources and tools they need, when they need them the most.
Today, we provide athletic scholarships for girls ages 12-17 which includes a full academic scholarship, completion of a life skills program, athletic training, and savings group and entrepreneurship training for their mothers. GGRF invests in girls when they are most vulnerable to dropping out of school, entering early marriage, and being exposed to gender-based violence. This investment provides the opportunity for girls and their families to design a future of their choosing and have the tools they need to make it a reality.
M: Why these girls? Why running?
K: In Ethiopia, only 28% of girls enter high school and 1.7% of girls enter a university. One in five girls is married before the age of 15 and one in two girls is married before the age of 18.
Girls face a trifecta of issues that limit their opportunities to escape cyclical poverty in Ethiopia: lack of education, early marriage and social exclusion. These factors inhibit girls, especially those from rural or disadvantaged communities, from building networks and skills that would allow them to establish independent, financially secure lives upon entering adulthood.
Running is the national sport of Ethiopia and has created a source of incredible female role models who have dominated the sport on an international level. GGRF leverages the national sport of running to create safe spaces for girls to build community and gain access to the resources they need to build a better future for themselves.
M: Have these young women changed your own relationship with running?
K: For a long time I struggled to call myself a runner. I felt uncomfortable being the director of a running organization because I was never very fast and I felt like I didn’t have the body type of an athlete. I thought those things were the requirements for calling yourself a runner. Working with the GGRF Athletic Scholars has shown me there is so much power in your relationship to your body and what it does for you, not for other people. The GGRF teams include a diverse range of athletes, but they all call themselves runners. They show up everyday and put the work in, regardless of their body shape or mile time.
Girls in Ethiopia and across the globe are taught that their bodies are dangerous, they incite comments from men, they need to be covered up, they are to be used only in certain situations, they are to remain under the control of men, and they are weak and can never be as strong as boys’ bodies. When girls are provided a safe space to grow physically and mentally stronger, it helps us tap into the power we have to create our own reality. Reclaiming our bodies is a major step in understanding that the labels others give us do not define who we are. We are what we decide to be and take action to become.
M: Do you think sport can help shape a better future for girls around the world?
K: I hope that the next generation of young women realize that they are capable of so much more than they think is possible and they already have everything they need to make it happen within themselves. Young women are often taught limiting beliefs like we’re never enough, that we shouldn’t achieve greatness because that’s not lady-like, that we shouldn’t demand to be treated with respect in relationships and in the workplace because that might bother someone, that we need the permission of others to become who we truly are and want to be.
Running and sport provides a space for young women to build empowering relationships with peers, find strength in their bodies, and achieve previously inconceivable goals. Through running, the girls of GGRF have realized that they have enough grit, resilience and vision to set big goals for themselves and achieve them. Through running or otherwise, young women are able to have these realizations and take a seat at the table.
Oiselle is a proud partner of GGRF, and to celebrate all that they do, we're holding a special promotion benefitting the organization this week on Oiselle.com. For more on GGRF and their impact, visit their site or get involved in the International Day Of The Girl 5k!
Head Up, Wings Out!