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

A blue hat special welcome!

Guerenarema, Dasenech participants in a GTLI project

A warm welcome for GTLI by the Dasenech people of Guerenarema, South Omo Zone, Ethiopia

The people of Guerenarema welcomed us in July with this heartwarming celebration! We were there to check up on the progress our Women’s Strengthening project, and we were greeted with overwhelming enthusiasm from both the women and men of the community.

The people are thrilled that they have learned to read and write Amharic, the national language of Ethiopia. This simple skill is an important step in improving their long term survival. They are better able to negotiate with merchants and communicate effectively with government officials in charge of providing them important services.

Two years ago Guerenarema was at the bottom of a long list of Dasenech communities unable to adapt to their rapidly changing environment. They had access to clean water, because they had participated in our WASH project in 2014-2015. But they had no school, no health facility, and no community-based microenterprise of any kind. Access to food was not dependable, and the people were barely subsisting. Their community was often in conflict with the adjacent Hamer people, because they were forced to compete for scarce grazing land and water for their livestock.

With the help of our funding partner Boeing Global Corporate Citizenship, we began a Women’s Strengthening project with the goal of improving economic empowerment and stability in this area.

The first step in this project was to provide more than 50 men and women our Integrated Functional Vocational Literacy classes. IFVL provides basic literacy and numeracy for adults while at the same time introducing new skills for food production and consumption, including chicken farming and gardening. You can see how proud they are by the messages they wrote on their hats!

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Marti MartindaleA blue hat special welcome!

We have a winner here!

Functional literacy class for Women Cooperative members in Guerearema

Women Cooperative members in Guerearema are learning to read and write

When GTLI first piloted Integrated Functional Vocational Literacy (IFVL), attendance averaged 15 people, with only three regular attendees. Lessons were simple learning exercises. Now, five years later, each of the 12 lessons are organized into six discrete learning activities that reinforce healthy hygiene and sanitation, reproductive health, and nutrition behaviors.  In Gueranerama Dasenech, 51 adults (37 women and 14 men) have already attended 32 out of 72 learning activities and their commitment continues to grow! When men and women practice joint problem-solving in school, their respect for each other increases, which starts shifting norms in favor of gender equality. It’s transformative—and Gueranerama adults are raising the bar!

The Gueranerama Women’s Cooperative is also ahead of the pack in earning money. These amazing women have established an executive committee, a management committee, and a credit committee, with more than half of the 24 members actively participating in co-op management. The cooperative is licensed with the local government office, and during the past few months they have been able to deposit 4,095 birr (approximately $190) in profits into their Omo Micro Finance account. This may not seem like much but when the average household income is less than $1/day, it’s a fortune.

The women have been busy selling local drink and coffee chaff while they wait for the completion of the new rural trading center and the inauguration of their new grinding mill. Soon, more than 170 very vulnerable households will be able to purchase food and commodities locally (instead of walking for two days) and to save 2-3 hours per day using the grinding mill rather than grinding grain by hand.

Less than two years ago, Gueranerama Dasenech had no access to water, no literate adults, and poor linkage to health services. Women spent 100% of their time fetching water, manually grinding grain, walking for days to purchase sorghum, and were often victims of violent abuse. Thanks to four projects funded by different donors, 204 lives have been transformed:

  • USAID/Ethiopia’s project constructed a new water well
  • JSI’s APC project last year stimulated demand for reproductive health and family planning
  • JSI’s APC project this year has provided 48 households with a total of 288 moringa seedlings
  • Boeing Global Corporate Citizenship’s project is teaching IFVL, constructing a rural trading center, and installing a grinding mill

And, best of all, the people of Gueranerama are truly helping themselves. They contributed 11,340 birr as cost share (approximately $528) in May alone by fetching water for construction and participating in other activities.

Our aim is to equip South Omo pastoralists so that within five years, they will have the ability—the health, livelihood options, and leadership skills—to thrive. It looks like Gueranerama may well be our first success story in resilience. Fingers Crossed!

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Marti MartindaleWe have a winner here!

Empowering women

Guerenarema Woman2 traditional maize grinding

Guerenarema woman grinding grain by hand

A Dasenech woman grinds by hand the grain that she will use to prepare her family’s meal. This is a task she spends 2 to 3 hours on, every day. Despite her work load, she is finding the time to participate in our women’s strengthening project now underway in the Guerenarema community.

Our project seeks to improve economic empowerment and stability for the women in this underserved community, where there are no schools, no health facilities, and no community-based organizations promoting microenterprise. We are not focusing only on the women, however. A group of men and women are coming together twice a week to learn to read, write, and do basic arithmetic. And in the process, they learn to make decisions together.

In these traditional communities, women do bulk do the bulk of the physical work—fetching water, carrying heavy loads, grinding grain. When we work with communities to empower women, they learn how to form a cooperative to operate a grinding mill and rural trading center. The cooperative will save hours of productive time each day for all of the women in the community. Time that would otherwise be spending grinding grain by hand or walking miles to the nearest trading center.

Our experience with women cooperatives has shown us that as they contribute to the overall economic vitality of the community, they also improve status of the women as valued community members. The women gain productive time, and they gain a voice in matters that affect their well-being and their families’ well-being.


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Marti MartindaleEmpowering women

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

Why Is Galo Joyful?


Galo Arigma celebrates learning how to read and write

Galo Arigma’s life and the lives of her friends in the community of Stimba have improved dramatically this year.

Galo and 25 of her friends who attended a GTLI school in the BeneTsemay region of Ethiopia have learned to read, write, and do basic arithmetic. They are celebrating this achievement and are beginning to teach their children. Can you see the pride in her face, and in the faces of her friends behind her? She wrote the sign she is wearing. It says,  “I have learned about personal hygiene and sanitation, and I now wash my hands before eating.”

So simple. And so profound.

Because of their participation in a GTLI project, Galo’s community now has clean water and practices basic sanitation and hygiene. And their health is improving. They learned about family planning and are embracing the idea that fewer children means healthier mothers and children, strengthening their community.

This is just the beginning of Galo’s community learning how to help themselves.

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Marti MartindaleWhy Is Galo Joyful?

What’s in a Name?

Worku in class

Worku in a GTLI Integrated Functional Vocational Literacy class

Worku learning to write her name

Worku learning to write her name

Where we work in Ethiopia, in the South Omo Zone, tribal traditions do not value education, and education for women, especially, is frowned upon.

But how do you vote, how do you access government health services, and how do you negotiate fair prices at market if you can’t read, write, or count?

When communities ask us to work with them, we offer integrated literacy and livelihood classes for men and women. This is life changing for the women as they acquire the skills, know-how, and confidence to negotiate with men and engage in a small business.

Their new ability to self-advocate then leads to better social standing: the women are recognized for their new knowledge and skills, and they participate more in community decision-making and governance.

What’s in a name? A whole new world of opportunity!

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Marti MartindaleWhat’s in a Name?

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

These Women Have a Problem

GTLI Intergrated Vocaitonal Functional Literacy class

Wonga Bayno women learning to write and read

The women of the Wonga Bayno and Minogelti communities in the Hamar region of the South Omo Zone, Ethiopia have inspired us from the day we first met them. They work long hours to provide water and food for their families, and they want to do so much more.

And that, in a nutshell, is the problem. When all of a woman’s time and energy is spent hauling water by foot and grinding grain by hand, that is all she is valued for. Under those conditions how can she help her community climb out the endless reliance on emergency water and food aid?

In July more than 80 women registered for our adult Integrated Functional Vocational Literacy (IFVL) classes in Wonga Bayno and Minogelti. And this tremendous response from the women even though they were still walking long distances for water while waiting for their local wells to be repaired.

With our Economic Empowerment of Women projects we are helping to create and support women cooperatives that operate grinding mills and trading centers, giving all of the women in those communities more productive time.

Wonga Bayno women's cooperative trading center

Practicing using the scale at the trading center

The women in our IFVL classes are learning that they can solve problems. They are learning tangible skills to earn money and raise food, and they are gaining the confidence to advocate for themselves, their families, and their communities.

By working together these women are beginning to transform their communities.

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Marti MartindaleThese Women Have a Problem