The Wukro Devon running project was started to help athletes in a poor rural area in northern Ethiopia. Wukro has a population of 35 000 and is at an altitude of 2000m. It is in the centre of many famous ancient rock hewn churches and is therefore an important tourist destination and religious centre. The project supports 15 athletes providing food and clothing, travel expenses and coaching support. Team members are encouraged to stay in school and help each other to develop their running whilst working towards financial independence. This is a region where the vast majority of people are subsistence farmers living on less than £1 a day. Runners rarely have shoes, athletics clothing or adequate diets. Runners have to work as well as attend school and train. Most work is farming or other manual labour.
A coach was appointed, Gebremedhin, the sports teacher at the secondary school, and he selected the team members. He leads three training sessions each week, selects athletes for races and administers time trails to check on progress. Athletes continue to be supported through illness or injury. Race opportunities are scarce and consequentially highly valued. The team made its first appearance in a regional competition in Adigrat (a northern Ethiopian town). The competition culminated in a clean sweep of the medals for the 800m and one athlete, Abraham, achieving gold medals in both the 5000m and 10 000m. Subsequently Abraham was invited to join the team of a local leather factory, Sheba.
The next major competition will be the regional championships in February 2011. The project was set up by Cathy Newman, winner of many Devon races including the Great West Run, the Grizzly, the Last Chance 10k, and the Bicton Blister, and Berihu Tesfay, a Sports Science student at Aksum University. Berihu has won several National Junior Gold medals at 800m and it is hoped that he will come and race in Devon in the summer of 2011. Berihu has been invited to join full-time athletics camps in Addis Ababa but he has turned these opportunities down in order to complete his university education and to help his mother (he is her only child) who is unable to work.
Perhaps the Devon Wukro running project will be able to find an athlete like Gebregzabher Gebremariam, winner of the New York Marathon, who comes from Sinkata, a town very close to Wukro. The athletes have huge potential, but they need funding to help them realize this potential.
The project has received highly valued support from Ironbridge Runner and Exmouth Harriers. Pictures of the team can be viewed at http://www.peternewman.co.uk