Alum in Africa

 

 
GOTR-STL alumae and practice partner Reeves Oyster, and her mom Ronna Pohlman who is a former coach and current board member, recently visited Africa for an incredible journey. Armed with their knowledge of Girls on the Run and with a suitcase of GOTR-STL t-shirts, these ladies were prepared to experience the journey of the lifetime. Here is Reeves’ story:
 

What was the most important thing you learned from participating in Girls on the Run?

I participated in Girls on the Run from third grade to fifth grade at Captain Elementary. While I was there the program was in its baby stages, but it was just as meaningful to me then as it is to young girls today. During elementary school, girls are in a very impressionable place. They’re just beginning to become aware of their body, boys and most importantly, other girls. It’s at this stage in my life where I began to understand the idea of comparing the weight, clothes, and physical beauty of my peers to myself. Unfortunately, the materialistic components of a person begin to overtake judgment, while the “inner beauty” that GOTR strives to enhance is left behind. I, along with many other young girls, began to feel insecure. That being said, the most important thing that I’ve learned from participating in GOTR is confidence. Although it may seem trivial, I strongly believe that confidence is the most fortifying characteristic of a woman at any age. GOTR taught me to keep my head high, love myself, and stop the judgmental comparisons to my peers that previously tore me down.
 

How do you think Girls on the Run impacted you in terms of your sense of Community?

I’ve essentially grown up with the same group of friends my whole life. So, while I have tons of memories with my longest girl friends, my memories of GOTR afternoons have lasted the longest. For me, GOTR created a community of wonderful, strong, and independent girls that I’ve used as a foundation for my own growth. No matter where I am, I know these girls have got my back, and that’s something very special.
 
On the larger scale of things, I think the program of GOTR in general creates a massive community. Girls from all over the St. Louis area, no matter race, age, or social class, all have a powerful experience in common, and a sense of accomplishment when finishing the celebratory 5k. In fact, this year, I had the pleasure of standing near the finish line of the 5k with the legendary announcer himself, Chip Lerwick. As the girls crossed the finish line and Chip said their name, their faces glowed with both gratitude and accomplishment. It’s a big deal for these girls to be out there running, and watching their faces as they realize “I did it” is priceless. I’ve been very honored to be included in the “I did it” moments of the GOTR community for all these years as both a “girl” and a coach._
 

What did you see in the young Tanzanian girls you met that reminded you of being a GOTR?

During my visit to Tanzania I volunteered in a primary school for two weeks. I was able to work with children mainly in fourth and fifth grade on their English and math skills. I was blessed with the experience of spending time with all the kids, but the young women of the Tanzanian society ultimately inspired me. Although they are constricted by the patriarchal culture of their country, the young girls that I had the pleasure of working with contained the happiness that I sometimes struggled to find in my adolescent years. One girl, Gema, who I individually tutored, needed help with her multiplication tables. At first she seemed timid and afraid to improve her skills, but after working with her for a couple of days I began to see a new Gema emerge from her shell. She was confident, ready for improvement, and independent. She reminded me of myself. Gema’s growth in her math skills reminded me of my own growth in recognizing the GOTR concept of “inner beauty.”
 
In Tanzania the overall HIV rate is 5.1%; however, it can reach as high as 15.4% among women in some areas of the country. The country relies on a rising population to compensate for their inadequate healthcare system. A woman’s mean age of her first birth is 19.6 years old, and the same mother averages 4 more children after her first. There’s no denying it, women in Tanzania are at a huge disadvantage both socially and physically. While walking the streets of Moshi, women are seen selling fruit and other prepared meals on the side of the road. Unfortunately, this is where most women without an education end up. The cure to these limited socioeconomic outcomes is an increase in knowledge. At the Stella Maris, a school run by the Malisita Foundation, all children are taught in English; so by the age of 10 the children are essentially fluent. Although this skill gives them a huge advantage over their peers, the real advantage is getting an education beyond just the primary school level. Girls educated at primary school, around 82%, drops to a staggering 25.5% for secondary school. That statistic has to change. It breaks my heart to imagine Gema or any of the other girls I worked with not being able to move on in their academic journey. In a place like Tanzania, the GOTR curriculum doesn’t stretch very far when the struggle to meet basic needs includes access to clean water, healthcare, and food. That said, confidence and independent thinking, the fundamentals of GOTR, are still readily communicated when you’re working with any group of girls who are passionate, smart, and eager to finish their lifetime version of the 5K. We took the time one afternoon to encourage these girls and to let them know they represented the bright future for their country. The t-shirts we brought to leave with them are a lasting memory that they are very much a part of a larger community of confident and independent thinking Girls on the Run.
 
To learn more about the Malisita Foundation and the Stella Maris Primary School please visit http://www.mailisita.org/.
 
**statistics taken from unicef.org