By Kathleen Coskran (Ethiopia 1965-67)
Ethiopian Tsehai Wodajo’s life was changed by a young Swedish woman, Eva Nordin, who showed up in Tsehai’s village in Ethiopia more than 40 years ago. Eva saw Tsehai’s potential and made it possible for her to stay in high school and to go on to university.
Tsehai never forgot Eva who made such a difference in her life and was inspired to find a way to provide that opportunity for other girls and young women. She and her friends Hanna Getachen-Kreusser and Ann (Chartrand) Jensen (Ethiopia 1964-66) (the first PCV in Bahar Dar) had the idea for Resources Enriching African Lives — REAL. In 2004 Tsehai and Ann traveled to Ethiopia to establish the first REAL site in Nedjo, in western Ethiopia, with a local supervising committee and a mentor for 15 girls. REAL has grown to 8 sites, and is currently opening a 9th site in Begi, in far western Ethiopia.
Multiple studies show that educating women makes a significant difference in the health of their families, their communities, and their countries. REAL chooses the poorest girls (i.e., those most likely to be forced into early marriage), supports them with a small monthly stipend, some of which goes to their parents, and forms them into a sisterhood of 15 to 20 girls who meet weekly as a group with a mentor, a local woman whom REAL funds. The mentor supports and counsels the girls about school and family issues, checks their bankbook (they are required to save part of their money for their future) and generally makes sure they are doing well.
REAL is committed to working within existing systems—not trying to build schools or tell Ethiopians how to educate their children or run their lives. Their focus is to make it possible for the most disadvantaged young women to create a future for themselves. REAL has just completed their 17th year and are in the process of expanding and stabilizing so their good work continues beyond the founding stage.
Learn more at the REAL web site, real-africa.org . REAL is currently expanding in Ethiopia and is looking for additional friends and sponsors. We would also love to export the model to other countries and invite other RPCVs who are knowledgeable about the systems and needs in other countries to contact us.
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Kathy Coskran (Board Vice-President) experience as a Peace Corps in (Ethiopia 1965-67) inspired her life-long commitment to Ethiopia and to education. Upon returning to the United States, she trained to be a Montessori teacher. She eventually served as Head of Lake Country School, a Montessori school in Minneapolis for children ages 3 to 14. She is now retired, but not retired from helping students in Ethiopia.