In Honor and Memory of Dennis Wilkins
It is with heavy hearts that we share some very sad news. Our Co-Founder Dennis Wilkins died on March 31, 2018 at the age of 79. Dennis and his wife, Judy Sanderman, conceived of Project Ethiopia after an independent sight-seeing tour of the region in 2002. This trip was part of Dennis and Judy’s retirement plan to see the world and well after Dennis was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. After returning home, they reflected upon the tremendous need they encountered on their trip and began to explore ways to help. While in Ethiopia, they were inspired by two brothers, Awoke and Workineh Genetu, who continue to serve as our Project Leaders. Together, this foursome conceived of and implemented a model for community empowerment and resilience that has touched the lives of thousands in the Dangla area of northwest Ethiopia.
From the very beginning, Dennis and Judy were true role models of sustained, selfless service. Dennis was the quiet master of creative and inventive problem solving; committed to tackling big problems prioritized in the U.N. Millennium Development Goals for 2015. For example, his research to eliminate open field defecation and build latrines involved a visit to India’s toilet museum, research into use of composted feces and urine, and a design for urine-diverting dry latrines. He insisted that all of our work be ecologically and economically sustainable. Judy was the extroverted spokeswoman, inspiring so many people to support the project over the years with her excellent communication skills, her impeccable research and records, and her ability to keep track of the impact the project is making.
Dennis never allowed his Parkinson’s Disease to get in the way of his travels to Ethiopia. Judy and Dennis continued to work tirelessly side by side with our Ethiopian project leaders and the local community. Over 13 years Project Ethiopia blossomed into one of the most creatively conceived and beautifully executed service projects imaginable.
Upon hearing the news of Dennis’ passing, Awoke expressed his deep sadness with the following message:
My brother Workineh Genetu and I worked for 16 years with Dennis Wilkins, the founding father of Project Ethiopia. He came to Ethiopia more than 8 times to help us. Because of his extraordinary nature, he walked from village to village (even as a Parkinson’s patient) to understand the communities’ problems. He rode on mule carts to reach remote villages. He ate what the locals eat. Dennis was our hero and mentor, a selfless and generous man. He was very close to us, he supported us and comforted us. He will live with us in our hearts!
Dennis will be remembered by thousands of children who are attending schools built by him. He will be remembered by the poorest of the poor who are living in good houses now. He will be remembered by thousands of people who got access to clean water. He will be remembered by many thousands for all the wise decisions he made and all the good work that he did.
Here in Ethiopia, we will have a special ceremony with our staff, community leaders, and priests to honor Dennis’ life. We will name a village after our friend and hero, Dennis Wilkins. I wish the soonest recovery for his wife Judith and all the mourners! I wish everyone to support his inspirations for the future of this project to keep him alive and to be remembered. Let him rest in peace.
With love and grief, Awoke Genetu
Dennis and Judy together have poured their lives, hearts, minds, and livelihoods into Project Ethiopia. Their work has positively affected so many men, women and children in rural Ethiopia. The project has grown in numerous ways and we are certain that Dennis’ legacy will live on for many years to come.
If you would like to remember and honor Dennis Wilkins, you are invited to make a tax-deductible contribution to Project Ethiopia in his name at Project-Ethiopia.org. Thank you.
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