Mikyas Woldemichael is a 22-year-old Ethiopian American who isn’t afraid to follow his dreams. The University of Minnesota student is the founder of Ra’ey Youth Soccer Organization, which support kids in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in training and improving their soccer skills.
He started Ra’ey, which stands for “better vision” in Amharic, a year ago when he went to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to volunteer for Ethiopia Reads. His goal with Ra’ey is to help kids who live in poverty by getting them physically active, involved in their community, and focused on academics.
“I don’t want them just hanging out on the street all day and night,” he said.
It all started when Woldemichael observed how passionate the youth in his neighborhood, Haya Kilo, were about soccer. But they lacked the resources to properly train and play. All they had – as most children in Ethiopia do – were makeshift soccer balls made of plastic bags handstuffed with scraps of paper and cloth, he said.
“I had some soccer balls I gave them. So they asked if I could give them money to buy them matching shirts. I just handed them the money, not knowing if they would buy them or not,” he said. A week later, the kids returned with shirts they bought. That’s when he knew they were dedicated to the sport.
An avid soccer player himself, Woldemichael decided to start the organization and fund 15 kids’ soccer uniforms, soccer balls, renting a field, and hiring a coach. He has also organized fundraisers with the help of friends in the Twin Cities to send back to Addis Ababa.
Now, about 36 Ethiopian youth aged 10 to 14 participate in Ra’ey.
“It was word of mouth and the kids just showed up at practice with their parents. And it eventually just got this big,” he said. “I didn’t go to Ethiopia planning this.”
Now, Woldemichael’s vision is to encourage kids to stay off the streets. Through collaborations with friends and a partnerhsip with Ethiopia Reads, he wants to open a community center for the kids – with homework help, volunteer cooks, and soccer practice.
He is also working on starting a girls team, which has been a challenge, due to gender norms within Ethiopian culture. But he’s making progress.
Woldemichael has spent $3,500 on Ra’ey programming in the past year; $1,000 came out of his own pocket. The Ra’ey board of directors is working with Ethiopia Reads program called Sports for Development. This blog details more on that.
You can find Ra’ey Youth Soccer Organization’s website here.