My One Cent: Tsehai Wodajo

"When women are educated, economically independent and aware...they can be self-sufficient and live their own lives."

February 14, 2018 

Tsehai Wodajo is a social worker in Minneapolis, Minnesota and the director of REAL, a non-profit organization for girls and women in Ethiopia. She’s also a passionate advocate for CARE. This is Tsehai’s My One Cent story:

I am very passionate about my life, my children and family. I have been a social worker for a county agency for 17 years, where I am currently coordinating services for children with special needs including mental health issues, early childhood delays and different types of disabilities. I’ve worked in adoption, school coordination services and in a program that supported refugee and immigrant communities in working with local law enforcement.”

When I’m not doing those things, I’m the volunteer program director for the non-profit organization I founded in 2004 called Resources for the Enrichment of African Life.  We focus on education and empowerment of girls and women, working closely with a private school and church-based organizations in eight different locations in Ethiopia to provide mentorship to help girls succeed academically and in their lives.

Before moving to the U.S., I was a radio journalist in Ethiopia, which was viewed as an unusual job for a woman. It was rare, for that matter, for a woman in Ethiopia to be educated or to complete high school. My education was unusual because I obtained my undergraduate degree. Later, I earned my masters in social work in the U.S.

My father was educated enough to read and write. He always wanted his children to be properly educated, including his four daughters. I’m the first woman in my family to get an undergraduate degree. Now, most of my extended family members have degrees and it all came from devoted parents who believed that educating their daughters was important.

I came to the U.S. in 1990 to be treated for a brain tumor. I’d put off getting care in Ethiopia because I had two kids and a job and I just couldn’t deal with it. One day though, it dawned on me that this could be serious and that I should go check it out. I went to the hospital, but they didn’t have any sophisticated medical equipment like MRI. All they could do was a blood test but they said this condition was a pituitary tumor, which if left untreated, could make me go blind. That’s how I ended up coming to the U.S. Then my children and their father came. I received treatment, was totally healed and was even able to have another child.

A study done by the World Health Organization says that a majority of women in the area where I grew up thought wife beating was justified, even for little things like coming home late. I grew up witnessing this. Even my dad, who is my hero, hit my mom and abused her and the same things happened in different homes where I grew up. I even had that same experience in my own marriage. What I learned from this study is that education alone is not the only way to make a difference because abusive treatment of women, even in the Western world, cuts across the economy.  We need solutions that give women and girls a voice in their lives.

That’s why I advocate for CARE and foreign assistance. What CARE does is far beyond just sending girls to get education. They’re reaching out to men and boys too and men are now actually realizing what they’re doing. They’re reaching out to men and boys too to break the cycle of violence and create positive role models for masculinity. In so many places, abuse is such a norm that many abusers aren’t even aware they are doing it. It’s just the way it is and actually, in some cultures, women say that if your husband doesn’t beat you then he doesn’t love you because he’s not applying discipline.

CARE is looking at the root causes of violence and poverty and empowering at the grassroots level and so, I am doing the same thing in a very small way. When women are educated, economically independent and aware of what’s happening, then they don’t look to depend on someone else. They can be self-sufficient and live their own lives.

CARE is working from the bottom up and top down. They’re working with political influence and people in office and the people who vote for them. We are the ones who put them in office. We need their support to make a difference internationally because the international work the U.S. does comes back to us in positive ways. CARE is a vehicle that can make that happen.