A little in this country goes a long way in Ethiopia.
A fundraising dinner in Billings in 2011, followed by some T-shirt sales, brought in enough money to do most of the construction on a dormitory that will house up to 50 street kids in Gara Muleta, Ethiopia.
With the proceeds of a fundraising 5K run planned for April 12, Eayoall Atsbeha hopes to have enough to complete the dormitory roof and interior finish work.
Atsbeha left Gara Muleta, his hometown in eastern Ethiopia, nine years ago. He first lived with a good friend in Bakersfield, Calif., then got a track scholarship to Rocky Mountain College in 2009. He has since graduated from the Billings college with a degree in physical education and is working for Yellowstone County’s Youth Services Center.
The seeds of Atsbeha’s project were planted in 2010, when he traveled to Ethiopia as a translator with Jesse Murphy, the founder of MyFight. That nonprofit organization, based in Billings, is dedicated to alleviating poverty in Africa, mainly through microfinancing projects.
Atsheba, who had been away from his village for years, was struck by the extreme poverty he saw, especially by the many children and young adults living on the streets. His mother was doing what she could, providing food and shelter in exchange for light chores around the house, but Atsheba wanted to do something more.
“I had the idea, but I didn’t know what to do with it,” he said.
After his return to Billings, he was out running with Joel Harris, who was also on the track team at Rocky and had roomed with Atsbeha for a time. Harris had also been involved in MyFight as part of a grant-writing fellowship.
Harris said Atsbeha — known to his American friends as Yole — never directly asked him to get involved in a new project. He simply told compelling stories about his trip back home, what he saw and what thoughts were triggered by the trip.
“Yole is just a really inspiring, vibrant person,” Harris said.
On that run, Atsbeha was wondering what he could do to raise money to help those street kids back in Gara Muleta. That’s when Harris suggested an Ethiopian dinner, cooked by Atsbeha. The dinner, held in late March 2011, proved a huge success, attracting about 90 people.
To raise additional funds, Atsbeha took a page from the MyFight playbook and started selling T-shirts. The funds from those two ventures were used to build the dormitory, which will be run by the government in cooperation with churches in Gara Muleta, once it is finished.
That’s where Atsbeha’s latest project comes in. He and Harris are organizing the 5K fun run-walk on Saturday, April 12, in hopes of raising enough money to complete the dormitory.
“The whole project is to finish up what we started,” Atsheba said.
The event was named the Gara Mountain Man Run. Gara Muleta means “the mountain you can see” in Amharic, Atsheba’s native tongue. Besides Harris, Atsbeha has received help from Elizabeth McNamer, a Rocky professor, as well as friends and fellow students Caryl Cammack, Kristi Oakley, Noah Kibrono, Megan Durfee and Caleb Strumberg.
The run will begin near Daylis Stadium and end in Pioneer Park. It will start at 9 a.m., with registration starting at 7:30.
Atsbeha, who has his green card and hopes to obtain full U.S. citizenship by the end of summer, said he would like to expand his charitable work to other parts of Ethiopia as well, moving from Gara Muleta to other cities.
To sign up for the Gara Mountain Man Run, go to IMathlete.com and search for “Gara.” The race will begin at the southeast corner of Pioneer Park, at Avenue C and Third Street West.