Tsehai Wodajo founded a nonprofit that supports promising female students in her homeland on their way to graduation

By Mila Koumpilova (Star Tribune) |

When Tsehai Wodajo was in middle school, a young Swedish teacher arrived in her Ethiopian village and quickly bonded with her. The woman left six months later, but for years she sent money that allowed Tsehai Wodajo to attend the nearest high school — in a town where she shuttled between the homes of relatives.

Tsehai Wodajo went on to complete college, start a career in broadcasting, move to the Twin Cities, get a master’s degree, enter social work and raise three college graduates. In the intervening decades, she says, few of the barriers that keep most Ethiopian girls from completing high school have lifted. More than a decade ago, Tsehai Wodajo founded a nonprofit that supports promising female students in her homeland on their way to graduation.

Of some 400 girls who’ve participated in the program, about 100 have gone on to get vocational or college degrees or are working on it, says Kathleen Coskran, board member of Resources for the Enrichment of African Lives, or REAL.

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“The girls have shown us they are committed to their lives,” Tsehai Wodajo said.

In 2001, Tsehai Wodajo, now a social worker with Hennepin County, was involved with a nonprofit she helped start, focused on ushering Twin Cities refugees and other immigrant women into leadership positions.

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