GIRLS GOTTA RUN, Ethiopia

Girls Gotta Run Foundation

Bekoji, Ethiopia

Storytelling workshops, content development

Bashedu, Burtucan, Deretu, Desta, Fatuma, Lome, Meskeram, Nuria, Tarikwa and Zebaney, all in their early to mid teens,  these girls have a single minded devotion to running. They aspire to one day represent Ethiopia internationally. The medals tally in world athletic championships so far is nearly equal amongst the men and women of Bekoji.

 Since 2006, Girls Gotta Run Foundation, has worked with girls in Bekoji who use running and education to empower themselves and their communities.

Part of their life skills program, is to promote creative expression as an essential activity for the girls to be able to navigate adolescence. By creating a safe space for girls, this organisation has committed itself to ensure a well rounded upbringing of the girls in the town. 

The workshop, led by Lensational  Ambassador, Sandeep Dhopate, was aimed at letting the girls get behind a camera and look at the world around them critically. Holding a camera is like holding a pen. When one puts these tools to use, they start training the mind to focus on specific elements. We learn to read much before we learn to write and that is the idea behind photography too. We learn to observe much before we are able to create visuals to express our thoughts and ideas. 

Introducing the girls to photography was an attempt to encourage them to document life around them as it happens. There have been many articles written and films made about Bekoji and the amazing legacy of its long distance runners. But people of Bekoji remain the subject of the story, never the story tellers. Lensational wants the girls to be the storytellers of their lives and that of the community they cohabit. 

In 2017, Lensational partnered with Girls Gotta Run Foundation to run a visual storytelling workshop for the girl athletes. These girls know very well that the to be the best at something, training has to be an integral part of the process. While they continue to train physically to meet the challenging demands of long distance running, training the eye is equally crucial to see and understand more about the world around us. Only when we critically observe, can we start to understand the problems of our community and work towards finding long term solutions. 

A camera, in this respect, is not just a tool to make some pictures, but instead is a powerful weapon that can help highlight the inequities within society and contribute towards bringing a positive change.

Apart from understanding the fundamentals of image making and using the camera, the workshop consisted of simple assignments to help the girls develop essential life skills. Making portraits, for example, has more to it than just holding up a camera and shooting a picture. Talking to strangers is challenging. But the more one does it, the more one develops in self confidence and effective communication. Every rejection makes us hone our language skills to be more effective and convincing so that the next person understands our intention and eventually agrees to have their picture taken. The act of editing through several images to select just 10 odd images in order to tell the whole story in an exercise in critical thinking. A group activity to draft a story that everyone contributes towards and then subsequently attempts to create visuals for, fosters elements of problem solving, teamwork and conflict resolution.

These are just some examples, but during the workshop, we took part in several assignments that touched upon skills such as leadership, team work, time management, adaptability, visualisation, patience, perseverance, planning, conflict resolution, problem solving and critical thinking.