Transforming Passion into Action

The Minogelti Women's Cooperative leadership

The Minogelti Women’s Cooperative is achieving their goals with the help of Cross Cultural Journeys Foundation

Cross Cultural Journeys is a travel company passionate about understanding indigenous cultures around the world. Through their foundation, they have partnered with GTLI to empower the women of Minogelti kebele 1, Hamer Woreda 2, South Omo Zone (home of 16 ethnic groups) in the SW corner of Ethiopia.

Cross Cultural Journeys became acquainted with our initiatives when their group of adventurers visited GTLI’s remote field camp in February 2014. Several of the explorers became immediate supporters of GTLI’s orphan program and others decided to combine their resources to strengthen and increase the capacity of the Minogelti’s women cooperative – one of the most effective and sustainable methods to build the resiliency of an indigenous community.

Cross Cultural Journeys Foundation and GTLI partnership began in February of 2015 with three goals for the Minogelti Women’s Cooperative:

  •  increase the productive time of women
  •  begin changing the cultural norms in favor of female education
  • empower the women to advocate for themselves and their community

This project has been transformative for the women and the entire Minogelti community.

A grinding mill that had been installed a few years earlier–to relieve the women of several hours a day grinding grain by hand–had fallen into disrepair and was no longer functional. The Cooperative was unable to locate and engage a mechanic to maintain the mill.

Cross Cultural Journeys Foundation in collaboration with a generous private donor provided the funds to refurbish the mill and train the women to perform preventative maintenance, make minor repairs, and maintain an inventory of spare parts. The women have also learned how to weigh grain properly and record income and expenses daily. The women are now empowered to operate and maintain their grinding mill.

Coop members weighing grain

Coop members learn how to weigh grain and record transactions

A second significant investment by Cross Cultural Journeys Foundation was facilitating Integrated Functional Vocational Literacy classes (IFVL) for the community. Ten women enrolled and regularly attended, alongside men, to learn basic literacy and numeracy skills. Our IFVL schools include activities that reinforce healthy hygiene and sanitation, reproductive health, and nutrition behaviors. By including exercises that talk about diversifying diets and other skills, IFVL is able to positively influence a family’s nutrition at the same time women are gaining the skills to earn money to purchase food. And when men and women practice joint problem-solving in these activities, their respect for each other increases.

Through their successes in IFVL, cooperative members and their families are now eating eggs daily and earning income by selling them. One cooperative member sold enough eggs to buy a goat! The community is eager to have another IFVL program. This is a shift in favor of gender equality and a concrete demonstration of the benefits of education—the women are directly contributing to family food and household assets.

Another significant outcome for the community is the Cooperative management team is now able to communicate in Amharic, the national language. Coop Chairwoman Gulo Bola is able to use her mobile phone to communicate with government officials and the South Omo Zone Cooperative Union. Since limited officials speak the tribal language, or have the confidence to use a mobile phone, Gulo is able to facilitate logistics for the cooperative and advocate for the entire community.  Women Cooperative members are now treated as important community decision makers and advocates.


Cross Cultural Journeys Foundation’s investment in the Minogeti Women’s Cooperative has resulted in recognition nationally, regionally, and locally:

  • The government paid for Minogelti Women’s Coop Chair Gulo Bola to participate in the 2015 National Pastoralist Day in Afar (remote NE region of Ethiopia) where she was presented a trophy cup by Ethiopian Prime Minister, Hailemariam Desalgn
  • The Southern Nations & Nationalities Peoples Region awarded the Cooperative a flat screen TV in appreciation of their accomplishments. Unfortunately, Minogelti does not have electricity so they will auction off the TV in the future!
  • South Omo Zone Women Affairs Office acknowledged their pioneering accomplishments with a large trophy cup.

By the numbers


The number of Women Cooperative members who earned their first profit sharing distribution in August 2016.


The number of goats the Cooperative has accumulated to trade for maize and sorghum


The coop paid Cooperative Union dues of $225 (5,000 birr) which gives them access to bulk purchasing and transportation, providing them an overall savings of $4,450 (98,000 birr) for products they sell: oil, soap, batteries, tea, biscuits, beads, razor blades, sorghum and maize.


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Marti MartindaleTransforming Passion into Action

Meet this amazing Dasenech role model

Gelte Mine

Gelte Mine, pictured with her daughter Kognang, is a 35-year-old Dasenech widow and mother of 7 children. When Gelte was asked how her family’s quality of life was affected by GTLI, she replied, “We eat much, much better and we no longer have diarrhea. I am now self-confident. I do not let the brothers of my dead husband control me. My eyes have been opened. I say, GTLI is mizap” (the highest compliment in Dasenech language).

Prior to GTLI’s work with Gelte’s community, the lives of the women and girls were determined by traditional standards, values, and rules of conduct. Women were valued only for bride-price, labor, and number of offspring; females had no representation in the household or community; women were denied freedoms of speech, influence, and education; women owned no assets and had no authority over household assets or finances; and women and girls accepted violent and abusive disciplinary behavior. Other cultural practices that adversely affect Dasenech females include female genital cutting and early forced marriages.

Gelte reports that her life and the lives of other village women started to improve when they learned that women should be equal to men through their participation with men in GTLI’s Integrated Functional Vocational Literacy classes. She said, “I gained the confidence to refuse my husband’s brothers. They used to force me and my children to wait until after they ate all our food. We were always hungry. Now, I no longer wait for the men to eat—we eat together. Also, my children and I only drink filtered river water. We are so happy that the diarrhea has gone away.”

Gelte defied very stringent cultural mores when she decided to start using modern contraceptives after participating in GTLI’s Community-Based Learning in Action Healthy Children. She does not want to have a baby by the brothers of her (dead) husband! Gelte managed to save $100 when she was employed as a Community Health Promoter for a GTLI Emergency WASH project. This exceptional role model is now the cashier of the women’s cooperative and a member of the Community Empowerment Committee.

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Marti MartindaleMeet this amazing Dasenech role model

Competition for safe water

Much needed well in Bandar, Dasenech in South Omo Zone, Ethiopia

The new Bandira well, rated to provide water for 400 people, operates 24/7 to serve more than 2,000.

Where we work in South Omo Zone, Ethiopia, less than 30% of the people have access to clean water. When a new well is constructed, it is often overused and quickly breaks down. The new well we constructed in Bandira this spring is now used 24 hours a day, 7 days a week by everyone in the surrounding area. This does not give the well sufficient time to recharge.

Overuse is just one of the challenges for new water schemes. Poured concrete, that protects the well,  quickly cracks if proper construction techniques are not used. Wells that are not protected by fencing and proper sanitation practices become contaminated. Local government water offices are often challenged by the lack of capacity—budget, technical expertise, and transportation—and struggle to help when wells fail.

To reverse this trend, GTLI strives to build the capacity within the community itself to maintain their new clean water supply. We teach local contractors to perform standard concrete quality tests during construction. We provide extensive training for the Water User Association, made up of community members, facilitating the collection of water user fees and providing initial water scheme replacement parts so they can perform preventative maintenance.

Building the resiliency of these communities begins with sustainable clean water. Since 2010 GTLI has constructed or refurbished 127 water schemes and provided access to safe water for more than 102,000 people in the Dasenech, Hamer, BenaTsemay and Nyangatom kebeles. In order for everyone to have access to sustainable clean water, more wells need to be constructed.

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Marti MartindaleCompetition for safe water

Field stories

Amarech Benki smAmarech Benki is a 37 year-old BenaTsemay woman and the mother of nine children. Her two oldest children are married and her youngest is 18 months old.

Prior participating in GTLI’s Reproductive Health project, Amarech had no understanding of basic sanitation and hygiene. She now feels strongly that she could have prevented the death of one of her children with the understanding that she now has of healthy hygiene and sanitation behavior. She has become a strong advocate of pit latrine usage, hand washing, and clean compounds. Amarech wants to help her community.

“A friend and I regularly visit households on Sundays to check and see who is using their pit latrine and if it needs maintenance. We identified two households that were not using their latrines and told them they had to use them. The families said, “No!” We told them that when they defecate on the ground during the rainy season their feces gets into our water well, and we all get sick. We gave them a choice – start using their latrines or we were going to report them to the whole community!”

Amarech is happy that she and her family now have more to eat. Before participating in the program, her family’s diet consisted of maize and occasional meat when her husband’s wild animal hunt was successful. As part of this GTLI program she received four chickens when she graduated from Integrated Functional Vocational Literacy school (IFVL). She learned well, and she now has 30 chickens. She sold one chicken recently for funds to purchase an exercise book for her son. She has also given 20 eggs to five households to help them start raising chickens. Her husband received vegetable seeds and agricultural tools when he graduated from IFVL. Their family’s diet now consists of eggs, sweet potatoes, vegetables, chickens, and meat, which they buy with their egg money.

Women in Amarech’s community usually have at least 10 children. She and her husband decided that in order to make their family happy and healthy she needed to use Family Planning. They agreed that Depo was the best option for them and so Amarech, a fearless pioneer, became a new acceptor of modern contraceptives.

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Marti MartindaleField stories

Before and After Tells the Story

Ola community wants water access point

Before: The Ola community used this water access for their drinking water

These before and after pictures tell a success story of two communities, Ola and Shalla, in the BenaTsemay region of the South Omo Zone, Ethiopia.

A natural spring in Ola, pictured here, supplied the community with water. But people and livestock had to climb into this traditional water source, polluting the water and contributing to extremely high rates of diarrhea and other water-borne disease.

Ola sits at the top of a mountain. At the bottom of that mountain is the community of Shalla, whose only access to water was a 25 kilometers walk away. Watering their livestock took days: one day walking to the well, one day watering, a third day walking home, and a fourth day resting before starting the process again.

The government had previously built a pipeline and reservoir to divert water from the Ola spring at the top of the mountain down to the lower elevation Shalla community. But as can happen when there is a lack of communication between communities sharing a resource, the pipeline became damaged and no one had the resources or know-how to fix it.

After: Both Ola and Shalla communities now have improved water points providing plenty of clean water

The government asked GTLI to help. We worked with both communities, employing our Community-Based Learning in Action   process (CBLA) and our technical expertise. We determined we could refurbish the Ola spring, providing a clean access point for people and a separate access point for livestock. We repaired the pipeline to the Shalla community and constructed two access points for both people and livestock. The community Water Sanitation Committees were  trained in preventative maintenance of the pipe line, spring, reservoir, and water points to ensure the communities can handle any future problems.

Now the communities at the top of the mountain and the bottom have access to clean water. And they can water their livestock without contaminating the people’s water supply. We expected the Shalla water points would help the 500 people in that community. But it has turned out that more than 2,000 people from neighboring communities now use the water points. The community is managing the water points and keeping the water clean, making this a success story for the entire area.

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Marti MartindaleBefore and After Tells the Story

GLTI Presents at APHA Meeting

apha-logoLori Pappas participated in the 143rd APHA Annual Meeting October 31st through November 2nd, 2015 in Chicago. Lori presented on a panel looking at the importance of community involvement for health outcomes.

Lori shared GTLI’s experience working with the Dasenech and BenaTsemay women in Southwest Ethiopia. She highlighted the importance of educating and empowering women in order to elevate their status within their communities. The goal of GTLI’s holistic integrated approach was to blend traditional wisdom with modern thinking, transforming the cultural belief that large families equate to wealth into healthy families equate wealth.

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Marti MartindaleGLTI Presents at APHA Meeting

UN Adopts New Sustainable Development Goals

Sustainable Development Goals_E_Final data-lazy-sizes

At the end of September, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and a set of bold new Sustainable Development Goals, which Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon hailed as a transformative vision for a better world.  Click on the graphic above to read more about the goals that drive our work at GTLI.


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Marti MartindaleUN Adopts New Sustainable Development Goals

Paying it Forward: Traditional Tribal Values Support Sustainability

New chicken farmer in Gurdo shares eggs with neighbor

One of the ways we help communities is by introducing new and healthy foods into their diets. Chickens and eggs are not a traditional food for the Hamar people in Ethiopia, but they are a great source of protein.

This spring in the Hamar community of Gurdo, 12 women and 11 men together completed our functional literacy course where, in addition to learning to read and write, they learned how to raise chickens and prepare nutritious meals for their families using eggs and chickens. When they completed their schooling, they all received chickens and the supplies they needed to begin tending their own flocks.

We’re already seeing numerous benefits. The Hamar culture is communal and collaborative, so when families have a surplus of eggs or chickens, they pay it forward naturally, sharing their new resources to better the entire community. By this summer, 11 of the Gurdo families we are working with shared their surplus eggs and chickens with 21 additional families, a dramatic return on a modest investment! The fact that the Hamar people are predisposed to share with the rest of their community means that we when we introduce a new food and new income source to a small group of people, it does not take long for the larger community to catch on. They help each other improve their food security and create new income generating opportunities.

Another benefit is the involvement of women in the classrooms and sharing their new skills with their community. In a traditionally gender segregated culture, providing a path for men and women to work together is the key to unlocking the voice of the women. It provides a safe environment where men and women begin to discover the value of joint decision-making and problem solving.

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Marti MartindalePaying it Forward: Traditional Tribal Values Support Sustainability

GTLI Presenting at PHE Conference in Kisumu, Kenya


PHE ConferenceGTLI Executive Director Lori Pappas is presenting at the Population, Health and Environment (PHE) Regional Conference September 9-10, 2015 at the Tom Mboya Labour College in Kisumu Kenya.

Her paper, titled Integration + Innovation Transformed Adverse Gender and Cultural Norms, highlights the GTLI family planning and reproductive health initiative in the BenaTsemay and Dasenech communities. This innovative approach transformed the cultural belief that large families mean wealth into healthy families mean wealth, by leveraging their traditional desire to have enough children to work. Read more here.

Hosted by the Lake Victoria Basin Commission (LVBC) in collaboration with the East African Community (EAC) Secretariat, EAC Partner States, National PHE Networks, PHE Ethiopia Consortium and PHE Madagascar Network, the conference is intended to increase the awareness of and support for integrated solutions to population and environmental challenges in Africa.

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Marti MartindaleGTLI Presenting at PHE Conference in Kisumu, Kenya

Making emergency responses stick

In November of 2014 Dasenech and Nyangatom communities, where more than 60,000 people live, were devastated by back-to-back floods of the Omo River that damaged and destroyed their water points. With the support of our partner the International Rescue Committee (IRC), we responded to this crisis with an emergency clean water project. [Read more about this project here.]

As this project nears completion we are happy to report that we have refurbished 16 wells, repaired two pipelines that supply fresh water, and repaired two roof catchments used for harvesting rainwater.

But our work involves more than providing emergency access to water. In this project, as in all of our projects, we built sustainability into the implementation. The 24,296 people in the communities served by this project are now empowered to self-monitor and self-manage their now functioning water points, keeping them clean and functioning into the future and ensuring sustainability. This is vital in an area where working wells are otherwise likely to breakdown or be contaminated within six months of installation.

community mapping

Community mapping: Everyone helps create a physical map of the area

How do we build in sustainability? By participating in our Community Based Learning in Action (CBLA) activities, communities discover through a dramatic mapping exercise how their traditional practice of open-field defecation impacts the water that they drink. This session “triggers” behavior change—motivating people to practice new hygiene behaviors and to construct and use pit latrines.


Nyangatom WatSanCo members with new uniforms and tools

As part of this project we helped establish new or revitalize existing community-based Water Sanitation Committees in each of the participating Dasenech and Nyangatom communities. These WatSanCo are critical to maintaining the community’s clean water supply. They assume the responsibility for maintaining the well, monitoring its surrounding defecation free zone, and fencing the pump to protect it from damage by livestock. Each committee has equal representation of men and women, ensuring that the all community members are involved in the process. The project supplied every WatSanCo with working tools for preventative maintenance and coveralls and gloves for each committee member.

Nana Lomokuriya

Nana Lomokuriya collects funds for water point spare parts in Dasenech

The government Water, Energy & Mines office conducted the theoretical training, which we supported with additional hands-on, practical training. The five-day training sessions covered well preventative maintenance, water site protection (fencing the well and maintaining the defection-free zone), and water fee collection so the community has the funds for futures spare part purchases.

This project shows how we build sustainability into GTLI emergency water projects. With training, tools, and supplies these local WatSanCo are now empowered to maintain their access to clean water and handle future challenges.

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Marti MartindaleMaking emergency responses stick