Saturday, December 26, 2009

Background of REAL Founder, Tsehai Wodajo

Habitat home provides a springboard for local, global educational opportunities

As a child in Ethiopia, education was a value that was instilled in Tsehai Wodajo. She and her sisters had to travel great distances to get to high school because there was not one in their area. “Even though my father had four girls, he still wanted us to be educated,” Tsehai recalls. “Education is something that I take great pride in.”

As Tsehai started her own family, she applied the values that she learned at a young age to her own children. “I was determined to provide all of the necessary opportunities for my children to succeed in their education,” Tsehai said. One of those necessities was a stable home.

In the early nineties, Tsehai was living in a cramped two bedroom apartment with her mom, dad and three children while she attended college. Even though she was an extremely busy woman, Tsehai took the time to apply to Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity. She was accepted into the program and in 1995, Tsehai’s family moved into their new home.

Since the move, her family has been extremely successful. Tsehai was able to complete her master’s degree at Augsburg College. Her daughter, Derartu, completed high school, graduated from St. Cloud State University and went on to receive a master’s degree in International Business and Project Management from St. Mary’s. She now works at State Farm Insurance.

Tsehai’s next oldest, Fufa, is in the process of going back to school, working and is also getting married in August 2010. The youngest, Fedha-Waaq, is a junior in high school.

Currently, Tsehai works full time for Hennepin County, out of the Hopkins Police Department on a program called the Joint Community Police Partnership. The program’s goal is to facilitate understanding and communication between the multicultural residents of the city of Hopkins and the police.

With her educational background and willpower, Tsehai was able to start her own nonprofit organization, Resources for the Enrichment of African Lives (REAL), with eight different sites and 120 girls currently in the program in Ethiopia. An additional site will be added in January.

REAL’s mission is to educate and empower African people, living in the United States and in their native countries, to lead productive and satisfying lives, building strong communities. “If we can reach out to these people, we can make a difference,” Tsehai said with excitement in her voice. “There are many people that are passionate in making a difference. That’s why I decided to start this organization. Education is something that no one can take away from you; and women and girls need education the most.”

Tsehai hopes that by teaching the girls in the program about education, they will become self-sufficient and have the tools to break out of poverty and oppression.

Besides helping her native country, Tsehai has also given many hours to Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity. “Habitat is so, so dear to me,” Tsehai stated. “I have referred several people to the program.”

Of all of the people that Tsehai has referred, at least ten of them are now living in Twin Cities Habitat homes.

In ten years, Tsehai hopes that, “My kids will be married and have their own children. They will come back to the house that they once called ‘home’ and visit.” She also hopes that her youngest will pursue a master’s degree and beyond.

For herself, Tsehai hopes to expand her organization within Ethiopia by reaching out to more families and communities. With all of her previous successes and determination to empower girls and communities, this dream definitely seems within reach.

Contributor: Laurie Krinke
Reprinted with permission of Habitat for Humanity of Minnesota