It’s not uncommon to hear about a friend, neighbor or family member who decides to sponsor a child in a developing country. To provide basic necessities and educational opportunities to those in need is an honorable thing, but how many of these stories involve a long-term friendship with annual visits, family meetings and running marathon races together? That is the case with Petra Kilian and Edward Solomon. And thanks to the Red Sweater Project, the student and his sponsor have a unique story to share.
 
Edward, a Maasai warrior, was among a small group of students accepted into the inaugural class at Red Sweater Project’s Mungere Secondary School near Mto wa Mbu, Tanzania. The application process included completing entrance exams, reviewing school records and facing multiple interviews to be accepted. “Ashley came to our school in 2013. I had three interviews. Forty students were accepted from 3 primary schools in the area.”
 
Petra, an endurance sports coach from Madison, Wisconsin, had previously visited Tanzania to explore on safari and donate supplies to local primary schools in the area. Prior to her third trip to the country, Petra was introduced to Ashley Holmer and the Red Sweater Project through a mutual friend in the US.
 
After learning about the success rates of the organization, Petra decided to sponsor a student at Mungere, and she was introduced to Edward. Upon hearing so many good things about his achievements in school, Petra felt there was something very special about Edward. So, she decided to visit the school during her next trip to Mto wa Mbu, and she was not disappointed.
 
“He is so smart and kind. He’s such a hard worker with a gentle soul. I liked Edward the minute I met him, and we have developed a special bond over the years. And we both love to run!”
 
Since her initial connection with Red Sweater Project, Petra has made a trip to the school every year to donate supplies, visit with Edward and his family, and to see how the school continues to develop. “I was so impressed by the way Ashley runs the school. You know where the money is going; you can see the progress of the school.”
 
Thanks to Petra and Red Sweater Project, Edward now attends college at the Jobortunity program in Arusha, a much larger town not far from Mungere, where he is currently learning trade skills and career training. “I love it. They teach you techniques on how to work in different companies. It’s different, but it’s good.”
 
To celebrate his acceptance to school, and their mutual love for running, Edward and Petra decided to run the 2018 Kilimanjaro Marathon together. For this special trip to Tanzania, Petra was able to network with friends and associates in the US, allowing her to accumulate over 100 pairs of running shoes, soccer cleats and additional sports gear, which she brought along on her journey and donated to Red Sweater Project.
 
On March 4th, 2018 the race was underway. The marathon course presented sizable hills like waves spread throughout the entire race which, when mixed with the high humidity, posed a challenge for many runners. Being a veteran marathon runner herself, Petra decided that the half marathon was a better choice for them that day.
 
“It was definitely a rolling course,” Petra described the marathon layout after she and Edward completed 21 kilometers of the 42-kilometer race. “The climate and the hills absolutely challenged us, so we decided to do what was best for us, and it was the right call!” Edward was happy with the decision as well, and enjoyed experiencing the racecourse with his sponsor and good friend. “We had a good time. I’m tired now, but I’m very happy we did it.”
 
Since her first encounter with Red Sweater Project, Petra has enjoyed every trip to explore Tanzania, visit with Edward and see how the school has progressed. These visits have motivated Petra to sponsor two additional students at Mungere Secondary School. “I can see that my efforts make a small difference, and education is the best way to help a child succeed. That’s why I continue to work with Red Sweater Project.”
 
As for Edward, he hopes to find work in the restaurant business after he graduates from college. Edward would also like to invite anyone who comes to Tanzania to visit Mungere Secondary School, or maybe even to the grand opening of his future restaurant. He wants all visitors and friends to feel “always welcome.”