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From Burkas to Tracksuits in Somalia and Djibouti

somali track coat

Last week an article on All Africa, called From Burkas to Tracksuits, talked about young girls in Mogadishu, Somalia who are training for the London Olympics.

If these girls can run in a city where the stadium is riddled with bullet holes and they have to slink through the streets to avoid stones, roadblocks, and guns, I can most certainly wake up and run when I'm feeling a bit tired and cranky.

Since I started running in 2008, I have come to recognize a profound inter-connectedness between my body, my mind, and my spirit/soul. I know, in the deep places, that these girls are doing more than run when they circle the track. They are defying the chaos that would rob them of their childhood. They are refusing to succumb to hopelessness and despair, withering away in dark corners. They are saying that they will be strong, they will move their limbs and feel sweat on their cheeks, and they will accomplish something with the life they have been given, even if it is only a few seconds shaved off a personal record time.

Here's a link to an interview with the Somali team I wrote for Running Times. I don't think these kids are on the team anymore, I don't know what has happened to them. But they are part of the legacy of people who will not let suicide bombers attacking the National Theater and killing fellow sports enthusiasts destroy hope and strength and life.

In Djibouti I helped form a group called Girls Run 2. We sponsor young athletes by providing them with shoes, training clothes, coaching, and money for transportation to races. Though many prefer to continue running barefoot, they do appreciate appropriate sports bras instead of the poorly made-in-China bikini tops they find in the market. And without sponsorship, they are not allowed to compete.

Here is a short bio of one of our initial athletes, from my old blog. Most of these girls run because they are not in school and they are not in school because either their families are too poor, or they are refugees in Djibouti.

Girls Run 2 also provides the girls with job skills training: hair-dressing (here is a photo of them practicing on me for my birthday ), making bread, making beaded necklaces out of magazine pages, and sewing, among other skills. They are also learning how to read and write. One of the girls, aged 15, almost cried when she learned to write her name for the first time in her life, Khadija. Khadjia also learned how to sew and was rewarded with her own foot-pedal sewing machine. She uses it to hem dresses for her neighbors and earns up to $3 per day, more money than her family (who lives in a roofless, electricity-less, water-less shack) has ever known.

This sounds a bit cheesy, but for these girls and for the girls like them, running in Mogadishu, how do you spell hope?


somali athlete in Djibouti
somali sprinter
somali track team
girls run 2



megha's picture

Absolutely FANTASTIC

I felt so glad that girls are doing so well and progressing and making their lives better........BEST OF LUCK to everybody.........


rjones's picture

Thanks Megha!

Thanks Megha!

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