OUR TEAM About Us

Awoke Genetu, Project Leader

Awoke is a former history teacher who holds a university degree in history and currently owns and operates his own tour company in Addis Ababa. Awoke is the ‘can do’ man. Right from the start when Judy and Dennis felt overwhelmed at the logistics of digging a well, Awoke assured them that together they could implement whatever plans would help the community. He is the interface of Project Ethiopia with the government, regional officials, and the supporters. He has a long history of providing guidance and support to people to improve their situation, beginning in his high school days when he organized a group to educate his fellow students on AIDS through plays and posters.

Workineh Genetu, Project Leader

Workineh is an organic farmer and beekeeper who lives and farms in the Dangla area where both he and Awoke were raised. He was named Ethiopia’s Farmer of the Year from 2007 – 2010 for his progressive farming practices and named a Millenium Man in Ethiopia. Workineh is highly respected by all in the region including officials who recognize the high quality of the Project Ethiopia’s work and by the farmers with whom he has generously shared his agricultural expertise and advice. He has a natural ability to recognize each person’s gifts and to train and encourage work teams for project work. Workineh sees ‘the big picture’, and is a change agent who can help people to be confident and independent as they embrace improvement in their lives.

In-country Staff

Under Workineh’s direct supervision and leadership, our in-country staff consists of local residents who, in addition to running their own farms, work as well diggers, plumbers, cement masons, carpenters, metal fabricators, and maintenance staff on all Project Ethiopia projects. Because our team live in nearby villages and value the work being done by Project Ethiopia, many have been part of the organization from the very beginning.

Sue Wilkes, Executive Director

Sue joined the Project Ethiopia team in January 2017 having worked for over 25 years in the nonprofit sector in Seattle both as an executive director and a consultant. Her first connection with the Ethiopian community began in 1990 as a volunteer with Refugee Women’s Alliance (ReWA) in Seattle where she went on to join the staff and work for eleven years. She has also worked with a wide array of health and human service organizations, housing providers, faith-based communities, and coalitions throughout Washington state and around the U.S.

Dennis Wilkins and Judy Sanderman, Founders

Upon retiring from their careers in telecommunications and education, Dennis and Judy discovered their new passion – fighting poverty by facilitating community development projects in rural Ethiopians. They enjoyed extensive independent traveling after retirement, always seeking opportunities to be close to the culture and communities where they visited. Motivated by a trip to Ethiopia in 2002, they established Project Ethiopia, which satisfied their desire to be closely connected to the culture and their vision of addressing poverty in rural Ethiopia. In 2018, Dennis passed away in Vancouver, B.C. Judy continues to serve on the board of directors.

Board of Directors:

Rob Magnusson, President

Rob spent eight years working on account management and product development for local area tech companies. He’s now a happily at-home dad, deftly managing two rambunctious little kiddos. Rob and his wife, Brooke, have been Project Ethiopia supporters since 2005 – when Judy and Dennis first shared their inspirational story.

Lynnda Laurie, Treasurer

Lynnda was the office manager for a Seattle-based environmental consulting company for 21 years. She met Judy and Dennis through a mutual friend and immediately knew she wanted to be involved. Currently she’s the President/Treasurer of her condominium HOA and the Treasurer of Project Ethiopia.

Sally Jo Gilbert de Vargas, Secretary

Sally Jo Gilbert de Vargas is a retired, 30-year public school educator and administrator. She is an Associate Minister at Interfaith Community Sanctuary and has served on their Guiding Council for more than 15 years. Sally Jo has been a volunteer, supporter, and member of the Board of Directors of Project Ethiopia since 2005. She is also on the Board of the Suraiya Ataur Medical Clinic that serves women and children in the village of Chondipur, Bangladesh.

Fikru Kifle

Fikru Kifle moved to the United States in 1980 and worked as an accountant until his retirement from Weber Marketing Group, a marketing specialist for financial institutions. Prior to that, Fikru worked in various banking, accounting and management positions in Addis Ababa and Germany. Immediately following his graduation from university in 1970, Fikru was assigned to teach high school for one year in Dangla. He returned to Dangla for the first time in 2019 to learn more about Project Ethiopia’s work and to witness the changes since his time there. Fikru is an active member of the Ethiopian community in Seattle supporting the work of Ethiopian Community in Seattle and St Gebriel Orthodox Church. He has served on the board of Project Ethiopia since 2019.

Mariko Langan

Mariko Langan grew up in North Seattle and has lived in the area most of her life. Some of her main interests are music, art, and the performing arts which have helped spark her interest in many different cultures around the world. She was introduced to Project Ethiopia through childhood friends, and feels honored to be on the board with such dynamic and inspirational board members. When there’s enough time Mariko enjoys broadening the vocabulary of her love-language: food. She also enjoys unexpectedly funny moments with her husband and two kids.

Wossen Mengiste

Wossen Mengiste retired from The Boeing Company in 2016 after enjoying a long and gratifying engineering career in multiple disciplines mostly managing and leading highly functional project teams. In his retirement years, he is motivated to offer services to nonprofits in his local community or non-governmental organizations supporting communities in Ethiopia where he was born and raised. Wossen brings a proven leadership experience with extensive background in policies, processes, and procedures. His educational background includes MBA from Seattle University, MA in Industrial Studies from California State University, Los Angeles, and BS in Engineering from California Polytechnic University, Pomona.

Len Barson

Len worked 20 years for The Nature Conservancy, the world’s largest land conservation organization where he lobbied Congress and state governments on conservation issues, worked on state ballot measures across the country relating to land protection, and led an effort to protect sagebrush habitat across 11 western states. Previously, he worked as counsel for the Energy and Commerce Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives and the Energy and Judiciary Committees of the Washington State Senate. He is a graduate of Harvard Law School and received a master’s in law from Georgetown University Law School. Len is currently retired and resides with his wife in Seattle, Washington.

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