About Us


An “Accidental ” Project

Sometimes a trip changes everything. In 2002, after retiring from their professional careers, Judy Sanderman and Dennis Wilkins fulfilled a promise to visit a friend in Ethiopia. It was on this trip that they met Awoke Genetu, a tour operator and a former high school history teacher, who served as their guide while traveling in the north.

On a stop in the countryside where Awoke grew up, curious school children gathered around Judy and Dennis. Awoke talked with the children and translated their questions for Judy and Dennis. The children were very bright and very eager to learn. But, as Judy and Dennis learned from Awoke, many parents were too poor to afford the loss of their child ’s labor for the family, the cost of a uniform, or the price of a pencil and notebook.

As they prepared to leave, Judy and Dennis wanted to give the children their pencils and pens. Awoke discouraged them from doing so and offered this advice: “You cannot give anything to the children here or they will learn to skip school to try and get things from tourists. If you want to give, you must give to the school so the children go to school to receive these things. ”

Returning to the U.S., Judy and Dennis reflected upon the tremendous need they encountered on the trip and decided to send Awoke $300 to purchase school supplies for a rural school. He accounted for every penny spent, including receipts and photos, for 25 student uniforms, 86 books, and teacher supplies. Even regional school officials came for the ceremony to present the students with uniforms and the faculty with supplies.

After raising an additional $2,800, the couple eagerly returned to Ethiopia in early 2005 to purchase benches for 1,000 students, more uniforms, vision care and glasses for those with severe problems, and school supplies. On this second trip, they learned there was no source of clean water for the children at that school. As the news spread among their friends of the need for a school well, many stepped forward wanting to support this project and the donations arrived soon after. It was at this point that Judy and Dennis realized that if they asked, people were willing and even eager to share.

Thus began Project Ethiopia, a voluntary project in Ethiopia, and from 2005 – 2016, a charitable service project of Judy and Dennis ’ Seattle church, Interfaith Community Sanctuary. Over the next 11 years, Judy and Dennis made an additional 5 trips to Ethiopia to partner and work with Awoke and his brother, Workineh Genetu, who continues to farm in the Dangla area. In 2017, Project Ethiopia became a stand-alone nonprofit organization and in 2020, celebrated 15 years of community-led transformation.

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Our work to help create opportunities for families and communities in rural Ethiopia is only possible because of YOU. Learn about the different ways you can partner with Project Ethiopia, connect with others, and make a difference. Join us today!



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