Improving rural Ethiopian quality of life, ensuring that children have access to education and that families are able to live in healthy environments, supported by economically successful farm-based businesses.
It all started with $300 After retirement, Judy and Dennis reluctantly fulfilled a promise to visit a friend in Ethiopia. The poverty seen on this trip inspired them to entrust $300 to their guide, Awoke Genetu, in 2003. He accounted for every penny spent, including receipts and photos, for 25 student uniforms, 86 books and teacher supplies. Judy and Dennis were “hooked” and have eagerly made 8 additional Ethiopia trips to work with Awoke and Workineh and oversee their project.
1. The day Judy and Dennis first met Awoke and some village children – November 30, 2002. 2. & 3. What the initial $300 brought about – 25 uniforms, 86 books and teacher supplies. These were awarded at a regional ceremony with Awoke being interviewed on a radio broadcast with Awoke being asked where the money had come from.
An ‘Accidental’ Project
“When spiders unite, they can tie up a lion.” This Ethiopian proverb motivates Dennis Wilkins’ and Judy Sanderman’s work in Ethiopia. Retired as a telephone drafting manager and a college mathematics professor, Dennis and Judy discovered their new passion—fighting poverty by creating life-changing opportunities for rural Ethiopians. Motivated by a trip to Ethiopia, they established Project Ethiopia, which facilitates their vision of addressing poverty by providing education, improving health through access to clean water, family latrines and concrete floors in their homes and helping create farm-based businesses—creating brighter futures for rural Ethiopians.
Discovering illness and lack of bathroom facilities affected school attendance, Dennis and Judy resolved to eliminate these barriers. Successes include building 3 rural schools, libraries, access to clean water, school and family latrines and hygiene education, as well as uniforms, blackboards, desks, books, supplies, teacher materials, etc.
To address poverty issues, they look to the villagers for solutions. Practical advice is provided by their project partners, Awoke Genetu (Ethiopian guide Judy and Dennis met on their first trip to Ethiopia) and Awoke’s brother, Workineh, Ethiopia’s Farmer of the Year for 2007 to 2011. Awoke, Workineh, Judy and Dennis do not work as a traditional NGO, but rather work side by side with the Ethiopians, developing camaraderie among the villagers. They seek to empower the people, initiating a gradual, but fundamental, societal shift in the village community. It is inspirational when the Ethiopian people, who traditionally thought only of their extended families, begin to work cooperatively to improve the community as a whole. Judy and Dennis say being “old” (70 and 73) helps. Ethiopians, whose life expectancy is 52, say, “You are old and could just stay home and have someone feed you—and yet you come here to help us.” Inspired, the villagers eagerly volunteer to work and lower their prices for goods and services, saying they will take part of their profit in “satisfaction”.
Villages are close to each other so knowledge, skills and education are easily communicated from one village to another. Now, in 2011, the knowledge of how to thrive has spread far and wide and many people, not just in ‘Project Ethiopia’ villages, KNOW how to improve their health, education and economy.
This innovative project creates motivation, hope, and self-empowerment in the villagers, previously overwhelmed by their circumstances. It is remarkable what has been achieved with relatively little. Potential for future achievement is great, since the village “infrastructure for change” is in place. This infrastructure consists of all the villagers who have been organized by Workineh and Awoke and now trained as cement masons, stone splitters, builders, metal workers, tailors, cart drivers, etc. Now, in 2011, Judy and Dennis feel the tipping point has been reached where knowledge has spread and progress is unstoppable, with self-direction and donors’ generous support.
Judy and Dennis volunteer all of their time, all administrative and travel expenses, so every cent donated to the project goes directly to benefit the villagers. Thanks to Dennis and Judy, in the future more Ethiopian villagers will have safe water, sanitary homes, education, business opportunities and, most importantly, an optimistic outlook.Will you help us?