The Ethiopian runners were a sight to see in Beijing if you were not too busy watching The Redeem Team (US basketball), Mr. Phelps or those impressive opening and closing ceremonies. They simply dominated the long distance events, winning a total of 7 medals, 4 golds. Tiruneshi Dibaba powered her way to sensational victories in the 10,000 meters and the 5,000 meters while on the men’s side Kenenisa Bekele swiftly racked up the gold in the same events.
Here at the office all work stopped as the runners lined up to the blocks and words of encouragement and exasperation in Amharic and English bounced to and fro. As the bell sounded the signal of the last lap shouts of joy and excitement filled the air to be met with supreme satisfaction as Dibaba and Bekele pulled away from the pack in each race.
Needless to say, these victories mean a great deal for Ethiopia, a country that, like Kenya, has constructed a powerhouse distance running team that virtually ensures a golden haul from each Olympic Games. An impressive feat for a country with limited financial resources. To praise these feats, a plethora of songs and videos have been created over the years by some of Ethiopia’s biggest names in the entertainment industry that further the idolization process of these amazing athletes and iconic figures.
Ethiopia’s contribution to elevating African athletics to higher levels is also quite significant; especially at the 1960 Rome Games where the unsung and unheralded Abebe Bekila kicked off his shoes that did not fit comfortably enough and proceeded to win the gold in the men’s marathon. An epic event that today still commands supreme respect among all Ethiopians, young and old, and also marked the first gold for a black African (gold medals had been won by white athletes from South Africa for some time prior to this landmark event).
Now that the official Games have finished, the Paralympics begin and we certainly hope to catch some of that action from the office because it is far more important in terms of reflecting the Survivor philosophy. In addition, sports activities have played a huge part in the development of the Network here in Ethiopia. Sitting in front of me I have the Sports Activities of the Network (2005-08)document that provides an extensive overview of the major events that have been organized to date. A short list includes:
The 2005 and 2006 Addis Ababa Sport Competition for People with Disabilities
The 2008 Addis Ababa Millennium (According to the Ethiopian calendar we are on year 2000 now, and it will be 2001 on September 1st!) Sport Competition for People with Disabilities
Participation in the All-Ethiopian Games
Participation in the 50th Anniversary of the Confederation of African Football
and last, but certainly not least, a Survivors-led Martial Arts Club
Indeed, posters of Dereje Getaneh, a landmine Survivor performing a high tae kwon do kick with the slogan: “Given the opportunity, we will be successfu!” decorate various offices here. Dereje lost both his hands when he picked up an Unexploded Ordinance (UXO) out of a nearby creek bed when he was 10 years old.
Thus, sports offer an activity that contains elements of health and rehabilitation first and foremost, but also a strong dose of social empowerment and to some extent, economic opportunities. These kinds of activities reflect the positive transformation that LSN advocates as the Survivors lift themselves up from victims to Survivors and on to Citizen and Community Leaders.
If you get the chance to take in some Paralympics events, take a minute or two to observe humanity at its finest. We will be cheering on all the athletes and Survivors from Ethiopia.
Saludos cordiales desde Addis Ababa.
Posted By Lucas Wolf
Posted Aug 26th, 2008