Our Story

In 2007 Berhanu Tesema walked into a running store in NW Portland to purchase some shoes.  Little did he know this would be the start of The Ethiopia Project.

While purchasing the shoes he asked the sales associate a simple question: “What do you do with the returned shoes that don’t work out for people?”  Andrew Buswell was helping him out and told him that many of the shoes are sent back to the manufacturer or recycled by Nike.  To this, Berhanu asked if he could have some to take back to Ethiopia on his next trip there.

Berhanu is a native of Gondar, Ethiopia and immigrated here in his teens to escape the dangers of the civil war happening at the time.  It was in this moment of opportunity that he immigrated to the United States and graduated from college and became an engineer for the Bonneville Power Administration.  Along the way he married, had 2 kids, and always made time for a trip back home to Ethiopia and visit family.  Berhanu is what some would consider the quintessential American Dream.

After hearing his story and of the shoes he wanted, Andrew threw out the idea of starting a non-profit and actually starting to collect shoes to send over to Ethiopia.  The scale of shoes was unknown, as well as how to start a non profit and who was going to help with this goal.

Through trial and error and a lot of patience, non profit status was finally achieved through the federal government and the shoe collection began.  In total, over 2,000 pairs of near new shoes were boxed up and shipped to Ethiopia in The Ethiopia Project’s first trip back in March of 2010.  The Ethiopia Project today maintains itself solely through the work of non paid volunteers and a strong Board of Directors.  With no money going out to pay for staff, money raised is concentrated on the efforts of sending shoes, and eventually humanitarian supplies to the regions of Gondar, Bahir Dar, and Addis Ababa.

Shoe Donation to runners in Gondar

Generous monetary contributions made by Hub World Travel have helped make the first of many trips a success.  Through the shipping donation of Andy Hailue at AG Specialties, costs have been drastically reduced associated with transporting footwear into the country.  And through continuous footwear donations made by Nike, Adidas, and Brooks, obtaining running shoes will never be an issue.

Help us through your contribution at one of our events, or by donating your time to one of the many volunteer opportunities we have.  Consider this quote, and help us make a difference!

“There are fine things which you mean to do some day, under what you think will be more favorable circumstances. But the only time that is surely yours is the present, hence this is the time to speak the word of appreciation and sympathy, to do the generous deed, to forgive the fault of a thoughtless friend, to sacrifice self a little more for others. Today is the day in which to express your noblest qualities of mind and heart, to do at least one worthy thing which you have long postponed, and to use your God-given abilities for the enrichment of someone less fortunate. Today you can make your life – significant and worthwhile. The present is yours to do with as you will

– Grenville Kleiser


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