Visiting the Breakfast Club

November 16th

It is very late here in Dire Dawa in Eastern Ethiopia, a city which tantalises the senses. My head is buzzing with thoughts about what has been an extraordinary day at Gende Tesfa School. I have felt a kaleidoscope of emotions. For 2 years, we have organised fundraising events in Cookham, and today I finally got to see how the money is improving the lives of more than 1000 children who attend the school. A real milestone in this very special UK- Ethiopia partnership.

Our day started with a visit to the Breakfast Club. The kids were tucking into a plate of potatoes and vegetables and sugary tea. Thanks to Cookham’s fundraising efforts, some of the most vulnerable children at the school have a good breakfast every day. For many of them, it is the only meal they will have. The Breakfast team staff also help the children with health and hygiene and talk to them about any issues which might be worrying them.

I found it profoundly moving to see the Breakfast Club. Before it existed, some of the most vulnerable children used to go through the entire school day without eating, and they sometimes passed out in the classroom. The headteacher Wendu Fekade said there are around 50 more vulnerable children at the school who are either orphans or come from extremely poor backgrounds, who would benefit tremendously from attending the Breakfast Club, but at present there is no funding for them. I felt the tears welling up in my eyes when I heard this.

Sister Tigist, who is one of the JeCCDo team, then showed us the new sports ground which Cookham has funded. Some of the older children were playing football. When I visited Gende Tesfa School back in March 2015, there was nowhere for the children to play sport, so this was also great to see.

My friend Caroline and I then delivered all the letters from Holy Trinity School in Cookham to the children in the different classes.  The kids were so excited but rather nervous about opening the envelopes. The teachers said that the younger children had never received a letter before. When the children saw the letters and pencils, their faces lit up.  We visited three classes, taught them some English, sang songs and wrote letters back to the children in Cookham.

In the afternoon, we were invited to a meeting at the school, but when we arrived mid-afternoon, the parents of the children from the Breakfast Club had organised a surprise celebratory coffee-ceremony for us. It was very humbling and overwhelming, particularly as they have nothing and struggle to feed and clothe their kids.

One of the fathers at the meeting explained that his wife had died and that he had three children and that the breakfast provided by the school was the only meal that he had each day. He worked as a labourer and earned the equivalent of £2 in Birr which only paid the rent.  The challenges faced by others in the room were very similar.  I asked why some of the parents were absent. Sister Tigist sighed and said: “Those children don’t have any parents. They are orphans but we help them.”

After several speeches, the coffee-ceremony began and we were presented with a big cake and two resplendent drias. There was so much joy in the room as the women danced, shouted and clapped to show their appreciation for all the fundraising in Cookham. It was a very special moment indeed.

Moving forward, JeCCDo hopes that the parents of the children at the Breakfast Club will take part in one of their special training programmes,  and start up their own businesses. .


Our first day in Gende Tesfa

November 15th 

After an early flight from Addis Ababa to Dire Dawa, Caroline and I headed off to Gende Tesfa School and were welcomed by the Scouts. All of the children, who were aged between 9 and 15, had just been given uniforms by our charity and the boys and girls looked really smart. Unlike the UK, you have to be selected to be a Scout in Ethiopia and normally it is for good behaviour or for excelling at school work. The Scouts learn citizenship skills and help run the urban garden at Gende Tesfa School and sell the produce to raise money for the poorer members of the community. They also visit the elderly and do jobs for them as well as helping with conservation projects.

I presented the boys with badges from Cookham Cubs. It is the first badges they have ever had as the school can’t afford to buy “luxury items”, so they were particularly excited about the gift from the UK.

In the afternoon, we met three women who are part of the Women’s Business Group and each run their own businesses – Saeda, Fatuma and Alfiya. I met Fatuma and her husband Mohammad back in March 2015, so it was lovely to catch up with them both. It was also so impressive to see what all three women had achieved for themselves and their families in very difficult circumstances.

It is so great to be back in Gende Tesfa again….

A new Ethiopian adventure begins…..

November 14th 

So, after much anticipation and planning, my friends, Caroline Field (photographer) and Tutu Melaku (owner of Tutu’s Ethiopian Table in Reading) and I have embarked on another Ethiopian adventure. We arrived here at 6am this morning,  feeling sleep-deprived but happy. It was quite a logistical feat  bringing all our luggage across to Ethiopia on the plane as we had lots of gifts, letters and pencils from the children at Holy Trinity School, more than 70 t-shirts and a very heavy wheelchair and some crutches, but we made it with thanks to our friends at Ethiopian Airlines. Hoorah!

I am writing this to you from an internet cafe in the country’s dusty, vibrant capital, Addis Ababa. It is a haven of tranquility here, but outside there is lots of hustle and bustle and the crowds have gathered for a goat market. I had planned to promote our trip on Facebook and Twitter, but it has been banned because of the State of Emergency. The internet also keeps crashing, so this might be quite a short blog entry!

We have come on a special mission – to run the Great Ethiopian Run in Addis Ababa on Sunday (a lifelong dream!) and to raise awareness and funds for an amazing charity called PFC Ethiopia: Here is our fundraising page:

With 40,000 participants, the Great Ethiopian Run is the biggest road race in Africa. Just to add to the adventure – Addis Ababa is also 2500m above sea level and the third highest capital in the world, so it will be the highest ever 10km we have run! Who knows, if we are lucky, we might get to catch up with Haile Gebrselassie….

Today we have been to Debre Zeit to see the school well which Tutu Melaku has funded – the locals have dug a 30 metre hole and they think that they will need to keep digging for another 3-4 metres before they find water. This will save a lot of time and effort and mean that the school children won’t have to carry water such a long way. A fantastic project.

We have also visited the pioneering PFC Ethiopia training centre in Debre Zeit. The revenue generated from courses and projects there helps support people in disadvantaged children and families across Ethiopia. Mulugeta Gebru, who is Executive Director of JeCCDo, PFC Ethiopia’s sister organisation, explained to us that one of the charity’s main goals is to empower local communities and bring about sustainable development. If you are travelling to Ethiopia and would like to stay at the Debre Zeit centre, do get in touch with JeCCDo:

I am going to have to finish here. It has taken me 3 hours to write this because the internet keeps crashing and it is getting late. Good night…..

Gende Tesfa update

It is  now 20 months since I last visited Ethiopia, and so much has been happening on the Gende Tesfa School and community front. Together with Holy Trinity School, the Social Action Committee and other friends in Cookham,  we have raised a staggering £12, 662.04 for our Ethiopian friends in Gende Tesfa. Fundraising events have included a#Leap4Africa event at Longridge, a triathlon, a duathlon, a Swim Disco at the Magnet in Maidenhead, the Holy Trinity School Ball and a Big Band Night. A big thank-you to everyone who has supported Partners For Change Ethiopia. Together we are changing lives. We have built a sports ground, funded the Breakfast Club and constructed water-points. But there is still so much more to do…..

We’re nearly at the finish-line with our fundraising marathon for Gende Tesfa School…..

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I have some wonderful news, and I really have you all to thank for almost making this dream a reality. I still can’t quite believe it actually. Thanks to your generosity and all the hard work of the staff and pupils of Holy Trinity School Cookham, I have now raised £4,942.06 for the sports area and Breakfast Club at Gende Tesfa School. This means that we are £74.94 away from providing the children with the facilities they need for handball, volleyball and football. The total cost is: £5,100.

It all began with a crazy idea when I was offered a press place at this year’s London Marathon – my 14th marathon as a fun runner. Due to a permanent knee-injury, I knew that it was going to be the last time I could pound the pavements of our beautiful capital city for 26.2 miles, so I wanted to make it memorable and worthwhile. I decided to raise money for  Gende Tesfa School in Ethiopia – in March, I spent a couple of days at the school and was really moved by what I witnessed there. Not only is the school located in a very poor community, but nearly every family is affected by leprosy there. The staff and pupils there are  testament to the resilience of the human spirit – some children aren’t able to have breakfast before they come to school, and the sports facilities are virtually non-existent.

Mulugeta Gebru

So what else needs to be done? I need to raise the outstanding £74.94 ideally this week:

I would also like the children of Holy Trinity School to officially give the children of Gende Tesfa School their sports area and Breakfast Club – the children and staff have really spurred me on. I am hoping that Mulugeta Gebru, the head of PFC Ethiopia will be able to visit the school next Tuesday. Mulugeta has worked with the charity for 30 years, and is in the UK on a bit of a flying visit. Watch this space!

My farewell to marathon running

Running connects me to the euphoria of life.”  11169536_877377572309075_411439501413209105_o My 14th and last ever marathon and what a beautiful finale it was despite ending up in A &   E and having three stitches at the end of it!  The thought of not experiencing the elation of completing a marathon again feels almost like a bereavement – it is going to leave a huge void in my life, but life goes on, and I am sure there is another sporting challenge just around the corner. The London Marathon is quite simply the best day of the year in our beautiful capital city –   a record 38,000 runners tackling a 26.2 mile course around many of the city’s landmarks. The support and goodwill from the crowds is phenomenal. Despite all the doom and gloom in the news, marathon day reminds us of our shared humanity – people united in their passion for running, strangers helping each other out, some even crossing the finish-line #handinhand this year. Whether you’re running for a PB or for a charity you believe in, completing the 26.2 mile course is no easy feat. I am so glad that I took part yesterday. Having been told after an MRI a few months ago that I had torn the surface cartilage in my knee-cap (“chondral damage to the medial facet of the patella”) and that I should abandon my marathon training-plan, I agonised over whether to still take part. In the end after consulting my surgeon, I decided to do it as a celebration, and also to raise money for Gende Tesfa School in Ethiopia which I visited last month for Partners For Change Ethiopia, an amazing charity which helps children living in very poor communities in Ethiopia: 11157321_1618682478344687_1320996913_o Given my injury, I thought that I would need to walk or skip around the course, but in the end, I surprised myself and jogged all 26.2 miles in 4 hours 21 minutes which is a long way from my PB of 3 hours 44 but then, this was always going to be a different marathon experience for me. It was never going to be about the time and it was #AllAbouttheChild. I was swept around by the atmosphere and the live music. I absolutely loved it! For the first time ever, I ditched my walkman and was energised by the crowds and the sound of thousands of feet pounding the streets of London. If the going got tough, I remembered the message which Gende Tesfa School sent me at the weekend, which was incredibly moving.

The only time I stopped during the race was at Mile 7, when I dropped my running-beans, bent over to pick them up, and a fellow runner accidentally flattened me to the ground. It was completely my fault not his, but I was in a different zone and wasn’t thinking clearly. Adrenalin carried me around the course and it was only at the end of the race that I realise I had cut my knee quite badly. I ended up having 3 stitches at High Wycombe Hospital last night. On a plus note, I fell on my good knee! When I first embarked on my first London Marathon in 2003, I had no idea that my fun-running career would take me all over the world and be the trigger for so many new adventures and friendships – Berlin, Vienna, New York, Kathmandu, Tiberius, Zurich, Cardiff and seven London Marathons. As a child, I believed that I was useless at sport, but over the last 12 years, I have achieved things which I never thought was possible – for instance, being the second woman across the line at the Kathamdu Marathon back in 2005. I now know to quote Sport England that #thisgirlcan. I would like to say a very big thank-you to Cookham Running Club and the BBC Running Club and for all their support. Steve Wehrle, the former chairman of BBC Running Club, who is now 67, completed his 50th marathon yesterday! I would also like to thank the friends and colleagues who taken the trouble to come out and support me or sponsor me over the years. I will come and watch you next year! Most of all, I would like to thank my wonderful husband Damian and my gorgeous boys Josh and Jack for their love, patience and understanding. If you feel like a running challenge in 2016, I would definitely recommend doing the London Marathon. Whether you do it in 3 hours or 7 hours, it will empower you – I guarantee that if can conquer your doubts and fears, your legs will do the rest. For me another marathon continues, I have raised £2,583.25 so far for Gende Tesfa School but need £6000 for fund a Breakfast Club and play-area. Please do get in touch if you can help or know someone who can! Mob: 07900 4117 15