Sara Kebede is not your regular 16-year-old American. She gets perfect grades and is a champion runner for her school. Now she’s using her interest in running as a way to help children in her father’s homeland, Ethiopia.
Kebede lives in California, where she recently started an effort to collect shoes for Ethiopian children. She calls it Shoes for Sheba, and its goal is to send running shoes to poor children who can’t afford to buy them. Many have to run bare-footed on the rough terrain of Ethiopia’s hilly countryside.
Kebede relates to them, since both she and her parents run. “Since I was five I have been running races…so running has always been part of my life.”
Among her heroes is international icon Haile Gebreselassie, who ran his way to superstardom. Kebede has met him and says he is her inspiration.
Her interest in helping began when she visited Ethiopia as a 10-year-old. Kebede says she was impressed by children who would approach her to ask for pencils for school instead of money.
Currently on the high school track team in Orange County, California, Kebede watches with surprise as teammates throw away running shoes that are still in good condition to get the latest pair on the market – even when their old ones still have many miles left in them. She has placed collection points at schools and around town to gather shoes for her project.
Kebede hopes the contributions will help improve the situation for many Ethiopians who turn to running to escape poverty.
Shoes would also encourage female runners in a country where men have long dominated the sport. Some Ethiopian women are taking the international stage and are winning international races. “If I could provide them with the basic tools -- just shoes -- they could better their situation.”