Friday, January 21, 2011

The Last Few Miles of a Long Journey

Thursday January 20th, 2011     DAY TWELVE
RAE Daily Update; posted by Boll Palladino, Executive Director of On the Ground

Our team has spent the last two weeks in a foreign country.  Many of the team were not seasoned travelers.  Many hadn't ever run more than 26 miles.  A handful left the states with injuries already haunting them.  The roads in Ethiopia were full of hazards, traffic, gleeful children following and pawing at them and, as Hans Voss found out, large stones.  The team had to travel in the daytime, no before-dawn departures for fear of hyena attacks. They were constantly challenged with language issues.  Even their assigned interpreters had trouble as the dialects changed through different cultural, ethnic, and religious areas.  Ethiopia is bordered by several countries for which the U.S. State Department has issued travel warnings.   Yet, in spite of all this, my greatest fear for the team comes now.

Everyone on the team, including our Ethiopian Team Tesfa runners, have had richly moving experiences along the road from Addis Ababa to Afursa Waru.  From the physical challenge that was anticipated and then realized as something more of a true athletic feat, to the emotional roller-coaster of accomplishing personal goals while simultaneously witnessing dire poverty beyond their collective imagination. 

Then in the closing miles of their journey all of this was eclipsed by the massive outpouring of gratitude from thousands of villagers on two separate days in different communities,  My worry for our RAE Team today is this... that they are less prepared for the emotional let-down of the parting than they were for the physical and cultural challenges they experienced on the road south.  As many of the team pack their bags and start the journey back home today, I can only imagine the mixed emotions they're feeling.  A desire to get back home to be among family must be balanced with some pull to remain in Ethiopia, to keep doing some good, to keep doing... something.

The stories over the past few days have been powerful tributes to the clear vision of On the Ground founder Chris Treter.  His perception as an American businessman to reach beyond his community, especially to those who serve our own sense of luxury and suffer in so doing, has generated a firestorm of excitement and support.  His notion of "beyond fair trade" is ambitious and groundbreaking.  These stories though are also a tribute to the power of solidarity across borders.  We as a team of disparate individuals from across North America somehow settled on this one goal, enjoined our friends, families, and networks, reached out to partners in another country,  planned something extraordinary, and accomplished it.  This is is a sign of something special, that there is a model to be replicated.  It is a journey to remembered, redrafted, kept alive.  Chris Treter may have started this with a singular notion, but it is being finished by a community of people with global reach aligned toward one purpose.

As my friends make their way home, and they begin to try to manage the physical, mental, and emotional challenges of the last two weeks, I'd like to share a poem with you. My favorite American poet is undoubtedly "the bard of Provincetown", Mary Oliver.  Please allow me this indulgence of sharing with you her poem, The Journey.

The Journey
One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice--
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do--
determined to save
the only life you could save.

You can also help us continue this important work by clicking the Donate button below and contributing what you can afford to On The Ground.Today, the exhaustion had a price for us as there was little in the way of written communication.  We did get a veritable pile of photographs, however, and some extraordinary moments captured on video from Jacob and James.  We also were happy to post this terrific personal note from Doug Stanton, husband of team member and journalist Anne Stanton. Doug posted this to his Facebook wall Thursday morning as a sweet sign of love and respect to his wife.

"A picture arrived this morning of Anne Stanton reporting a story in the highland coffee growing region of Ethiopia, where she has been traveling with Run Across Ethiopia. RAE has done incredible work in this area-- this ultra-marathon/goodwill journey is something like Three Cups Of Tea meets The Longest Yard, and Anne and Jacob Wheeler have been covering this unfolding story step by step down these roads. And while we can't wait to see Anne (I miss you!), I wake up everyday hoping she's written more here on Facebook. I hope she writes a book. I have a much better appreciation of what it means to stay behind, having myself left on long trips overseas. I will never experience this absence in the same way again. Pick up a latest Northern Express to read some of Anne's writing about this trip. It's poignant, funny, and honest, and above all focused and empathic, just like her in this photo."

And our Honor Bank VP, Norm Plumstead, left us these thoughts."We ran from our hotel in Yerga Cheffe to the village of Afursa Waru - approximately 10K.  When we reached the village, we were treated to a huge community celebration.  The love and support they  gave to us was overwhelming.  Over a thousand people were cheering, clapping, and singing.  All the runners took time to congratulate one another, and then we sat down while the village gathered around. The crowd was treated to songs, dancing and formal speeches of congratulations.  Chris Treter was given a chance to speak and shared some moving words.  All the American runners were presented with traditional Oromia clothes.  

After the speeches and formalities, we were invited into a school where we ate lunch.  Following lunch we toured the village, visited the coffee processing area and interacted with the villagers.  It was at this point that I was able to grab my video camera and do some recording.  The attached video contains some of the sights and sounds from today.
Today was yet another humbling experience in Ethiopia."

In closing, we'll send you off with one of Jacob's videos of the team running the last 100 yards or so into Afursa Waru.  As you watch this video, please try to imagine yourself in their shoes.  Not only did they commit to and run this 250 miles, they each raised over $15,000 individually so that the children in this community and others will have a place to go to school for decades to come.  

You'll be getting only a couple more of these reports from me.  I'll provide travel updates and also share more candid comments from the team as they get a few moments to contemplate what they've just accomplished.

Please remember these are only excerpts of posts that our team has provided us.  All of these people represent the heart of the Run Across Ethiopia, those of us still back in the States are proud of how they serve our mission.  To read full-length stories posted by our RAE Team members please visit our blog pages at
Remember too that you can follow us on Facebook and on Twitter where we post frequent, if short, snippets about the adventure.

If you want to see our stream of photos as they arrive you can go to the website (see below) or go right to our Flickr Photostream using the link below.
Tune in to the RAE website every day, or wait for these daily email messages.  Daily coverage is available on our website, and we also have three Traverse City businesses hosting Online coverage.  Higher Grounds Trading, Pangea's Pizza, and Crema Cafe' & Grill.   Feel free to come on by and cheer on the team.
To see more photos of the team as they are sent to us from Ethiopia, go to the website,, or go to our Flickr page,

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Average Joes and Super Heroes

Wednesday January 19th, 2011     DAY ELEVEN
RAE Daily Update; posted by Bill Palladino, Executive Director of On the Ground

I am blessed in having a relationship with an eight year old boy who allows me once a night to read with him.  Of late we've been deeply immersed in the Percy Jackson series by Rich Riordan. Percy you see is the son of Poseidon... an honest to goodness demigod.... and he travels among other Olympic Gods and monsters every day.  By now you know that my mind wanders in such ways.  So, it won't surprise you that over the past two weeks, each time I opened that book to read to this young boy about heroic feats and impossible quests, I tended to reflect upon my friends across the ocean in Ethiopia.  Granted, our crew are all adults, and as far as I know none of them are carrying around a magic sword shaped like a pen that always finds its way back to their pockets.  But they are nonetheless heroes in my eyes.  

This thing we've all just accomplished, it didn't involve slaying monsters, or bargaining with the offspring of Gods and wood nymphs, but it did send a group of individuals on a seemingly undoable task.  And, as promised, not only have they surpassed expectations, they have all been changed a bit by the experience.  By Gods!  I think there might be a book in there somewhere. 

Today's posts from Ethiopia were filled top to bottom with the awe of adventure.  The Run Across Ethiopia team never anticipated the level of gratitude they would find in the small village of Hase Gola.  This is the town where On The Ground will build one of our schools, and here the people of the Ethiopian highlands streamed into this community from all directions until they numbered in the thousands to greet, and thank, and celebrate with our team.  Our partners in this school project, the Oromia Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union (OCFCU) organized the festivities and through our heroes the equivalent of a ticker tape parade.

I'll let Hans Voss start us off.
"The biggest lessons though have come from the Ethiopian people. They are so warm, kind, and genuine. Glowing smiles. Pure joy. So many Ethiopians have cheered us on. There’s nothing better than when we run by a small hut in the countryside, those inside notice our presence, and then bolt out with arms waving, eyes wide open, and love in their hearts.

Yesterday, we visited the community where construction has begun on one of the schools the RAE donors have made possible. It was as powerful a human experience as I have ever had: the gratitude of about a few thousand people flowing endlessly toward us. 10 runners, a number of crucial role players, and over 700 donors have made a huge impact for thousands of people in this community — and all they wanted to say was thank you.
As I watched their faces, I was struck with how we are much more alike than we are different. Just like us, they  work hard, do what they  can for their children, contribute to their community. It does not matter how much we own or how much money we make, what ties us together – what makes us human – is something much more important than that. Frankly, I am not sure exactly what that is, but I know it has something to do with our how we reach out to each other with love, no matter how different our cultures may be. That love binds us together. That love is something I believe in."

Seth Bernard and May Erlewine, as our cultural ambassadors, played a crucial role in the day's events and had this to report.

Hase Gola, Ethiopia
The site of the first RAE sponsored school.

"As we stepped out of our bus after 30 minutes of off road driving, we were greeted by 900 singing, dancing, clapping and smiling Ethiopians from the first community where a school is being build as a result of our collective efforts. Our senses were wrapped in soulful celebration. Our hearts exploded. Tears streamed down our cheeks. It was a peak experience. Humbling and heavenly. There are no words, images or instruments to measure or convey the power of these people. Such heart, such strength, such beauty. I have not felt so alive since I was a boy. The spokesman from the community got on the loudspeaker and thanked us not only for paying a fair trade price for their coffee, but for helping their children and they saw this as a sign of deep respect and friendship. We were such lucky Americans to receive this love on behalf of the hundreds and hundreds of Americans who have supported this incredible effort. We share it with all of you. We Americans are in need of meaning, of fulfilling work, or real community. We have found it all here and it is yours, too. Hallelujah! Amen. "

Click the image below to see the team's entrance into Hase Gola, or click this link

And Dena Piecuch,  our Charleston, SC city police officer provided us with a thoughtful contribution.

"We are in Yirgacheffe. It almost doesn’t feel real. I feel like we have just started but i know my weary body tells me otherwise. We did 12 miles today to get here and tomorrow’s 6 miles is looked at with a pretty light hearted fun run mentality. The running is over? Yes. But the help isn’t. The things I have experienced and the people I have met here have touched my heart in a long term kind of way. The people of Ethiopia are the kindest, warmest, people I have ever met.  Even though I am un able to speak to most of them, we make an instant bond with a silent communication. They are just so appreciative of us and what we are trying to do and have already done for them. They speak hugely, with no comprehend able words actually spoken. My only hope is that the Run Across Ethiopia has created an awareness and by that awareness we are able to pull together and continue, long after the run, to help one another."
Amalia, our environmental art educator sent another beautiful post, excerpted here:

"People love to smile.  People love to laugh.  People love to dance.  People love to love and to be loved.  I have never felt more loved than I have in the last few days of traveling across rural Southern Ethiopia.  A smile and a wave can mean so much, to those that have so little.  How excited they are, just to know that we care about them, just to have a momentary reprieve from the tasks of everyday survival.  Many have never seen a person with a different skin tone, and how glad I am that their first impression is that of friendliness and compassion.  We can both stare at each other in intense curiosity, but when we add a smile, the whole dynamic changes.  There is nothing like a true and genuine smile to let you know that love is involved. 

Today, we were greeted by thousands of people from the community of  Hase Gola to thank us for raising money to build them a much needed school.  As we walked off the bus, the smiling faces surrounded us and lined the streets, clapping, singing, laughing, and beaming with an excitement that is so difficult to describe in words.  We walked through the crowds as policemen kept those singing, smiling people back and settled ourselves in the middle of a circle of thousands of expectant eyes.  Speeches commenced as the crowd sat to listen to thank you's, prayers answered, dreams realized, goals yet to achieve, and accomplishments in progress.  Children watched from the tree branches as hundreds upon hundreds of faces clapped, cheered, and emulated gratefulness.  Behind us sat the ongoing construction of a school that these runners had worked so hard to help build.  The school will educate 480 children in two shifts each day, affecting a total of 8,700 people in the community when all of the people in their families are included.  

We toured the current school house, tiny rooms with cracked floors and little furniture, it was hard to imagine that these rooms accommodate 90 children at a time.  The children that can't fit have to walk a half an hour to another crowded school.  That is, if their family can afford a notebook and lunches, and if they want an education, and the possibility of secondary school remains dim.  There are no bathrooms, no running water, no electricity and tiny windows,  It is hot, dark, and crowded, yet math problems cover the chalkboards and children fight for the opportunity to become educated and the chance to improve their quality of life.   The people in this community are in dire need of education, health care, and drinking water (there is a 3 hour walk to the nearest water fresh enough to drink).  And what do they do for a living?  They grow our coffee, our fair trade, organic coffee that we pay top price for.  Yet, no matter how much we pay, such a small percentage goes to the grower and his family.  If you would like more information about the issues of the coffee growing region of Southern Ethiopia and what is being done about it, please watch the film Black Gold, available on netflix: "                  

Finally, I'd like to introduce you to Stella.  She's the daughter of Timothy (RAE team leader) and Kathy Young.

"I would just like to explain yesterdays crowds when we went to the community.  When we first got there people were lined up on the side of this dirt track,I felt like I was in a parade , people were cheering, singing, and dancing.  Then they brought us to a field were they brought us the actual desks that they the might actually sit in at the new  school.  At first in the field a person from the community was talking to us about how grateful they were that we were here.  A man named Tedesse translated what the man was saying.  Then Chris got up and talked for a little bit then my dad got up  and spoke.  After that they took us into a school room and fed us beef with rolls,the cow that we ate was killed and prepared that morning and was very tasty.  But before we ate I felt like i was in a circus because I started doing cartwheels in front of some kids, then more kids came then more came.  I did a few cartwheels then a few kids started doing their own tricks, like walking on their hands, then a few kids tried to doing cartwheels.  Kind of going back to the field part, there were kids in the trees, like high in the trees.  While I as doing cartwheels a teenage boy came up and kicked a donkey because they thought the donkey was to close to me , but I didn't think it was very funny.  Sincerely, Stella."

By the way, the Percy Jackson books are worth the read, but they can't hold a candle to these average Joes and Janes. One more day with a very short, mostly ceremonial, run ahead.  Then our team begins their long journey home.  Stay tuned for more information on a big celebration here in Michigan sometime in February when you'll get to hear some of Seth and May's new songs create in Ethiopia.

Please remember these are only excerpts of posts that our team has provided us.  All of these people represent the heart of the Run Across Ethiopia, those of us still back in the States are proud of how they serve our mission.  To read full-length stories posted by our RAE Team members please visit our blog pages at
Remember too that you can follow us on Facebook and on Twitter where we post frequent, if short, snippets about the adventure.

If you want to see our stream of photos as they arrive you can go to the website (see below) or go right to our Flickr Photostream using the link below.
Tune in to the RAE website every day, or wait for these daily email messages.  Daily coverage is available on our website, and we also have three Traverse City businesses hosting Online coverage.  Higher Grounds Trading, Pangea's Pizza, and Crema Cafe' & Grill.   Feel free to come on by and cheer on the team.
To see more photos of the team as they are sent to us from Ethiopia, go to the website,, or go to our Flickr page,

You can also help us continue this important work by clicking the Donate button below and contributing what you can afford to On The Ground.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

It's The Reason We Did This In the First Place

Tuesday January 18th, 2011     DAY TEN
RAE Daily Update; posted by Bill Palladino, Executive Director of On the Ground
After more than 200 miles running in a foreign land, and with the end of their quest just around a few more bends in the road, our team is experiencing the real purpose our work. Understand that for each of the runners the act of running 250 miles through Ethiopia was a significant challenge, and for most its that challenge that brought them to our organization.  Without their love of running, and their belief in themselves, we would never have been able to raise the money necessary to build the schools we've committed to.  We are all grateful for their courage and conviction to do this.  Earlier today, because of a bad internet connection, and a resultant lack of posts coming back from Ethiopia I created this short status update on our Facebook page.  It said simply, "The cultural and emotional lessons of the RAE Team experience are much more important than any athletic struggles they will endure."    A few hours later my patience paid off with two marvelous posts, one from OTG founder Chris Treter, and the other from journalist Jacob Wheeler.
Here's what Chris sent us:

"Since the first time I stepped foot into the coffee growing communities of Yrgacheffe, Ethiopia I have been conflicted. I earn a living, in part, from a community of people that cannot send their children to school (as there is no school), where the average life expectancy is only 51 years (as there is no health care), and where life-threatening diseases arise from lack of access to clean drinking water.  I can sit in a nice cafe listening to music, leaning back in a comfortable chair, sipping on a latte, or breve’, or cappuccino, while I know, first hand, that the farmers who produced that coffee spend their days toiling away in fields, eating false banana (known as the famine buster for its ability to stay edible for a long period of time) and only having access to the food which they grow or kill.
Most coffee growers' lives are bound by poverty, while the product they produce, some of the most sought after coffee in the world, is placed in the hands of the rich – the 20% of the world’s population that controls nearly 80% of the world’s wealth. That is, you and I, those in the United States, or Europe, whose entire population lies within the wealthiest segment of the population.
The Run Across Ethiopia was first conceived to help support the coffee growers of Yrgacheffe, knowing that although Higher Grounds, and many other coffee companies in Cooperative Coffees, pay above fair trade prices, a price will never be enough in a community so stricken by poverty. Fortunately the idea of the Run has taken off and many people in our global community have jumped in to combat poverty. (Editor’s note: Cooperative Coffees is the buying coop that Chris’ company Higher Grounds participates in to buy Fair-trade coffee in a large quantities from around the world, including Ethiopia.)
The Run Across Ethiopia is funding a four classroom block in Hase Gola that will serve 480 students a year coming from 8 feeder schools in 10 villages, thus benefiting a total population of over 8700. This project is in conjunction with the Oromia Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union, the organization with which Higher Grounds has formed a long-term relationship.
It will be constructed and furnished to the standard of Oromia Regional Government and handed over immediately after completion to the Government to administer the school. This is extremely important as in Ethiopia, 86.3 percent of the population lives in rural areas such as Hase Gola. They subsist on agriculture which accounts for 55 percent of the GDP and creates 80 percent of employment and 60 percent of exports.
According to international poverty line estimates, 46 percent of the Ethiopian population gets below $1 a day. In such a context, access to health services, modern transportation, clean drinking water, education, & other activities and services are beyond the reach of the majority of the population.
UNICEF DATAThe school project in Hase Gola is the first (of many) major successes in the Run Across Ethiopia. And while our runners today received a joyous and overwhelming reception from over 2000 people, it is just the first step toward a community reaching long term sustainability. Thanks to many of you who have contributed to helping the community of Hase Gola begin its walk down the path of sustainability. Your generosity will serve nearly 500 students who will now receive a secondary education!"
(The data above was sourced from UNICEF 2003)

Jacob Wheeler was also obviously moved this day.  His post comes from a decidedly different perspective than what he sent the previous nine days.

Day 10: The run yields to Hase Gola
"For the past nine days, my blogging has focused on running — that is, the 10 harriers running nearly 250 miles across southern Ethiopia. I've catalogued their aches and pains, daily mileage and terrain, and how the runners have interacted and boosted each other through this painstaking endeavor. In other words, I've been a sports reporter.
But I've got news for you. I've taken you for a loop. The running was never the true story here.
Today, Day 10 of the Run Across Ethiopia, after jogging a slight 12 miles through hilly coffee country, we met the true gravity of our purpose here — in the form of thousands of excited rural Ethiopians waiting for hours down a rutted dirt road for our arrival in Hase Gola — the hamlet where the first On the Ground Global school is already being built. Immediately upon disembarking from the bus around 1 p.m. today, our entourage was swarmed by an untold number of joyous local villagers, clapping their hands, singing in gospel choirs, dancing with sugar cane sticks, playing whatever instruments they had on the floor of their meager hut. The welcome was beautiful, intense, and seemed both triumphant and tragic at the same time. Imagine the kinds of crowds that turn out to greet the Beatles, or Obama. Now you have at least an impression of what this felt like. I looked from face to face of our contingent — American and Ethiopian runners/journalists/musicians/interpreters, alike — and couldn't spot a single dry eye. Many of us have traveled extensively to developing countries before; others have rarely left the Midwest. And no one — no one — had ever experienced anything like this before.

Our new friends, numbering in the thousands, mobbed us as we found our way to makeshift tables where Tadesse Mekala, head of the Oromia Fair Trade Cooperative (spelling?), Chris Treter and others gave speeches about the importance of this new school for the community. Its construction is already underway. It will include four classrooms, which can hold 480 students (240, twice a day); it will reach 10 different rural communities, and ultimately change the lives of nearly 9,000 people whose sons, daughters, brothers and sisters will attend school here. Music took over after the speeches. Our interpreter Mamoosh danced like a jackrabbit along with the choir. Seth Bernard held hands and danced up and down with the pastor. Timothy and Connor Young joined Ethiopian youth in climbing a tree to take in the scene.
Our entourage was treated to a delicious meal afterwards in the new school, including a plate of fresh raw meat from this morning's animal sacrifice. When offered a gift of luxury in an impoverished village, you never turn it down. so runner Matt Desmond, myself, Maureen Voss, Shauna Fite and Timothy Young tried the raw meat with berbere spice. Whether the cuisine will come back to haunt us is unclear. But what is clear is that today's powerful visit to Hase Gola will remain lodged in the hearts and minds of our Run Across Ethiopia team. It's clear now that the run, itself, is only a vehicle, a conductor. The school and the community is what the journey is really about."
I want to thank Jacob and Chris for their rich words.  We hope that these posts will help you, sitting at home like me, to change in some small way.  To have your perspective on one small part of the world shift.

Please remember these are only excerpts of posts that our team has provided us.  All of these people represent the heart of the Run Across Ethiopia, those of us still back in the States are proud of how they serve our mission.  To read full-length stories posted by our RAE Team members please visit our blog pages at
Remember too that you can follow us on Facebook and on Twitter where we post frequent, if short, snippets about the adventure.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Power of Music (continued from MLK's Legacy of Values)

Monday, January 17th, 2011   DAY NINE
Continuing the RAE Daily Update; posted by Bill Palladino, Executive Director of On the Ground.

Food, coffee and rituals
Jacob Wheeler from the Glen Arbor Sun provides us with a view of the team from the road to Yirgacheffe.

"Imagine that you’re a poor farmer in the Sidamo region of southern Ethiopia — an African herdsman — living in a mud hut by the side of the road. Imagine that you walk out your doorway into the sunlight one morning, and there at 7 a.m., a bunch of “ferenges” (“foreigners” in Amharic, probably derived from “Frenchies”) in skimpy running shorts are laying there on the grass, stretching. Imagine, too, that a couple white musicians are playing guitars and singing. You think, what on Earth! This scene has likely never happened before in such a remote part of East Africa.

But that’s just what form the Run Across Ethiopia took on Day 9. Earthworks musicians Seth Bernard and May Erlewine joined the team for today’s 16-mile run, which took us into the Yirgachefe coffee region, and a mere 36 miles from our ultimate destination on Thursday. At every water and food stop along the road, Seth and May lit up the crowds of villagers and children, who clapped, danced, and engaged in the sort of cross-cultural love and understanding that music knows best. At one point, RAE harrier Nigel Willerton requested a Beatles tune as he jogged by without stopping. Seth played “All we need is love”, and out of the crowd hobbled a weary old man carrying a massive rolled-up animal skin over his shoulder. He began hopping up and down and dancing to the song.

Another video demonstrates the Ethiopian coffee ritual that taught the Western world how to consume its #1 addiction.  Follow this link to,

And just so you don't think we've forgotten the runners, here are few photos from the day.

Please remember these are only excerpts of posts that our team has provided us.  All of these people represent the heart of the Run Across Ethiopia, those of us still back in the States are proud of how they serve our mission.  To read full-length stories posted by our RAE Team members please visit our blog pages at 

MLK's Legacy of Values

Monday January 17th, 2011     DAY NINE
RAE Daily Update; Posted by Bill Palladino, Executive Director of On the Ground
We begin to wonder if it is due to the fact that we don’t know enough.
Yesterday our team of runners, musicians, journalists, filmmakers and support personnel reached a turning point in the Run Across Ethiopia event.  It was as if the veil was lifted from the reality of the country they had been running through over the past week.  On Sunday, one after the other, posts came in reflecting a very different perspective.  The beauty of the the African continent and the aches and pains associated with running more than a marathon a day gave way to emotional pleas to help make sense of a world appearing more and more alien.
We knew going into this that our team would have a vast set of experiences while covering the 250+ miles from Addis Ababa to Yirgacheffe.  It’s difficult to predict, however, the emotional impact on each individual.  (If you haven’t already, I’d encourage you to visit our blog’s home page here. The blog posts over the past couple days are truly amazing.)
The main gist of the blogs is the common and repeating reference to poverty and the disparity the team members are feeling.  Seth Bernard in his post even says, “we don’t have enough accurate information about Ethiopia in America.”  Simply asked, is it that we don’t know enough?  That notion is one of the very reasons we at On The Ground are here.  We’re building schools, yes.  But the bigger job we have is in educating the world about the things we are privileged enough to see.
In the United States today we celebrate the life and accomplishments of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.  Among his many great speeches he is most often praised on this day for his ground breaking “I Have A Dream” address.  While I love quoting from that masterpiece, the events in Ethiopia being brought to life by our team draw my eyes to something he penned many years prior.  It is also one that stands out as it was given in Detroit, Michigan.
Dr. King gave this speech 57 years ago in Detroit’s Second Baptist Church.   This is an excerpt.  To see the full text of this and all of Dr. King’s speeches please visit this website. (This particular text includes the congregation’s response in parentheses.)
February 28 1954:  Rediscovering Lost Values
I’m not exactly a stranger in the city of Detroit, for I have been here several times before. And I remember back in about 1944 or 1945, somewhere back in there, that I came to Second Baptist Church for the first time—I think that was the year that the National Baptist Convention met here.
I want you to think with me this morning from the subject: rediscovering lost values.
Rediscovering lost values. There is something wrong with our world, something fundamentally and basically wrong. I don’t think we have to look too far to see that. I’m sure that most of you would agree with me in making that assertion. And when we stop to analyze the cause of our world’s ills, many things come to’mind.
We begin to wonder if it is due to the fact that we don’t know enough. But it can’t be that. Because in terms of accumulated knowledge we know more today than men have known in any period of human history. We have the facts at our disposal. We know more about mathematics, about science, about social science, and philosophy, than we’ve ever known in any period of the world’s history. So it can’t be because we don’t know enough.
And then we wonder if it is due to the fact that our scientific genius lags behind. That is, if we have not made enough progress scientifically. Well then, it can’t be that. For our scientific progress over the past years has been amaz- ing. Man through his scientific genius has been able to warp distance and place time in chains, so that today it’s possible to eat breakfast in New York City and supper in London, England. Back in about 1753 it took a letter three days to go from New York City to Washington, and today you can go from here to China in less time than that. It can’t be because man is stagnant in his scientific progress. Man’s scientific genius has been amazing. I think we have to look much deeper than that if we are to find the real cause of man’s problems and the real cause of the world’s ills today. If we are to really find it I think we will have to look in the hearts and souls of men.

To read Dr. King's entire Rediscovering Lost Values speech, click this link.

Poverty Can No Longer Hide Behind the Runner's Pain

Sunday January 16th, 2011     DAY EIGHT
RAE Daily Update; Posted by Bill Palladino, Executive Director of On the Ground
Apologies for another late night report.  I'll confess that I took a bit of time off to monitor the New York Jets play the New England Patriots tonight.   I drank a beer, grilled some chicken, and polished all this off with a couple of Newman-O's cookies and a shot of bourbon.  My team came out on top.  A brief yet satisfying triumph of ego that is so very American.  After the game I opened my laptop to review the posts left by my distant team members in Ethiopia.  It's something I do every evening to write this dispatch. Tonight, for the first time, the juxtaposition of the two realities settled on me harshly.

Today the team of runners and their support crew seemed to all have a new tenor to their posts.  Gone were the short, staccato offerings about sore feet and bland food.  Our posts on this eighth day of the run all mirrored the experiences of the individuals making their way down that long road from Addis Ababa to Yirgacheffe.  These posts all bore a certain resemblance, a commonality centered plainly on the sudden and undeniable reality of poverty, hunger, and strife.  I send you this dispatch from a conflicted place in my heart.  Sitting in my relatively luxurious accommodations, nourished, sated, loved, still I feel a bit shattered tonight with the weight of what my friends are experiencing half a world away.

Our first post is from our musical ambassadors Seth Bernard and May Erlewine.  They parted with the runners just a few days into the trip to return to Addis Ababa.  Recently both elements of our team reunited and from here on out they'll share the experience of Ethiopia together.

"We don’t have enough accurate information about Ethiopia in America. Hopefully our expedition will help with this in some small way with this. There is too much fear and pity and not enough respect and amazement toward Ethiopia in our collective American mind. We have so much to learn. I find myself in awe of an ancient culture that has remained largely intact. This is the birthplace of mankind and the only nation in Africa that has never been colonized by imperial European powers. People have been kind and gracious without exception. I feel safer in Addis Ababa than I do in American cities of comparable size, and although I am a country boy (thank God), I have spent many moons in many a metropolis. For centuries, Christians and Muslims, dark-skinned and light-skinned folks have lived in peace, shared the same morning coffee ceremonies and celebrated their shared communities here in Ethiopia. When I have asked my new friends what their secret is and what Americans can learn from their culture of diversity and tolerance, they say that it has always been this way. They say that kindness is more important than anything. It’s at the heart of being human. They day that it’s obvious, isn’t it? Cruelty and intolerance go against the teachings of all the religions and we’re all neighbors. Ethiopia is another heartland and we have been welcomed as brothers and sisters here.  It’s going to be hard to leave, but we have a wealth of songs and stories to bring back to our people in the American heartland."

Founder of On The Ground, and owner of Higher Grounds Trading Company in Traverse City is Chris Treter.  He's one of our runners, and sent this short post.
"We have entered the coffee growing region of Sidamo where Higher Grounds purchases our Ethiopian Sidamo Unwashed. The poverty is increasing as is the numbr of children. Tomorrow we will run to the town of Dilla (about 15 miles).  Tuesday we will do a short run then go to Hase Gola where the school we are funding is being built for a party and tour of the community, school, and coffee fields. This school is built in a community that grows coffee for our Ethiopian Yrgacheffe (available in grocery stores and on-line). I mention this not to make a plug for HG but so that our base is knowlegeable - most of which can purchase the coffee from their local grocery store.  This coffee comes from the very community we will be visiting this week.  This creates a lasting impact - not only are we doing charity but are paying a fair trade price to a sustainably grown product. This is a very important lesson to understand the importance of fair trade. People can participate in both."

Our filmmaker Jamaica has sent us some of the most emotional posts to date, baring her soul as she experiences something completely new.
"I just couldn't stop crying, for 3 miles the tears pooled on my shirt, Egga's shirt, Su's shirt. I was too overwhelmed and haven't had time to process the emotional intensity of what I was right in the middle of. The fast progression of poverty we've witnessed in only 15 miles has astounded me to the point of pure emotion. From village to village we meet so many children and people, but without a chance to really get to know them; there are only moments. Yet today I couldn't handle it. We went from shaking hands to seeing a boy who snagged a water bottle, get surrounded by kids twice his age. The poverty is quickly coming apparent as we head further south, because the reaction of the villagers has a air of desperation; their basic needs aren't being met and survival is the number one priority. "

Ohio is home to one of our runners, Claire Everhart.  Her fresh eyes seem to see clearly the troubles of others and the difficulty in translating this across continents.
"Today as we ran through the Sidamo region I tried to imagine my life as an Ethiopian. Am I a child? Did my mother wake my 7 brothers and sisters and I from our curled positions on the dirt floor of our hut and tell some of us to go fetch water from 10 miles away? Are we lucky enough to have a donkey to help carry the water jugs? How many jugs are we blessed enough to have? Will the wheel my older brothers fixed yesterday make the trip there and back? Am I a single mother struggling to support 5 children alone? Am I a coffee farmer working to support my family, while being paid very little for the beans I grow?"

Anne Stanton, an independent journalist from northern Michigan, has provided us with some of the clearest prose yet, often touching on humorous observations.  Today, even her post changed a bit.
"The runs have shortened to about 15 miles, and the crowds have gotten way bigger. We have no way of communicating since the translaters don't speak the language here. But I have finally learned how to interact. You don't give them anything, even water or empty water bottles, because it causes fights among the kids, but you touch your heart and pointto them and smile and say "you!" (Which is their very favorite word). Or you say shalom, or you lead them into a fun chant, "Ethiopia!! Yeah!!). They love to shake hands."

Nigel, always has a way of bringing things back to running.  He's our most experienced runner (not a crack at your age Nigel).

"Our exertions during the previous five days where we ground out a 28-mile and then four consecutive 30-mile runs allowed the Run Across Ethiopia team a relatively easy seventh day on the road. We ran our shortest distance yet with a ‘mere’15-mile, 24 KM effort. It took us just over 3 hours to complete. The RAE team’s cumulative mileage in a week is now 183 miles or 294 KM and that equates to exactly a marathon a day."  Click the image or this link to see a video featuring Nigel.

Our other professional journalist on the team, Jacob Wheeler - editor of the Glen Arbor Sun, provides us with most of our video footage in wonderfully short segments.
"The team that ascended 15 miles into the Sidamo coffee-rich region was nearly 20 people strong. We’ve become accustomed to villagers, and children in particular, swarming the runners whenever they pass along the road, but we got lucky today because Sunday meant that many were attending church. Fifteen miles completed today, which puts us at 198 since leaving Addis last Sunday. Only 52 more to go before the victory jog into Yirgachefe on Thursday.
The past two nights we’ve stayed at the stunningly beautiful Aragesh mountain lodge near the remote village of Yirgalem. We’ve slept and dined in a series of round bamboo woven huts that are constructed entirely of local materials and held up by one post in the center of the room. Such architecture reminded me of indigenous earth lodges and was a welcome departure from the urban grit of previous towns."

A late addition to the team, Amalia Fernand, showed up with the family wave on January 12th.  She's been teaching art classes to children in schools along the way.
"Today, I joined the run and was moved by the happiness that we brought to many hundreds of children merely by our presence.  The runners finished mile 198 today and I joined them in running through small villages and coffee plantations for a few of those miles.  I also traveled by the bus that stays close by the group and stops to supply water and food breaks.  On these occasions, the people came running to gather, to stare, watchfully, expectantly, curiously.  I blew bubbles for the children and to witness the universal reaction of a child to a bubble reminds me that everywhere, people are just people.  They jumped, they laughed, they chased, they loved, and I only wish that I could do so much more, bring them so much more, give them so much more.  And then I look around and I realize that I am.  This entire event is for them, for their education, to increase their standard of living, to give them a chance at a healthy life.  Most of them do not understand this right now, and they may never.  I only wish that we could spend more time with them instead of quickly moving through each village.  I wish that we could explain that the reason we are here is for them and that there are so many people out there who have donated time, money, and a piece of their hearts for this cause. "

Please remember these are only excerpts of posts that our team has provided us.  All of these people represent the heart of the Run Across Ethiopia, those of us still back in the States are proud of how they serve our mission.  To read full-length stories posted by our RAE Team members please visit our blog pages at
Remember too that you an follow us on Facebook and on Twitter where we post frequent, if short, snippets about the adventure.

If you want to see our stream of photos as they arrive you can go to the website (see below) or go right to our Flickr Photostream using the link below.