With a $10,000 grant and an idea Telavive Taye '17 returned to her childhood home of Hawassa, Ethiopia, to create an enterprise she hoped would promote peace and prosperity.
The recipient of a Projects for Peace grant from the Davis United World Scholars Program, Taye established a car wash managed completely by and for youth, with the goal of engaging them in a productive business in a growing city with high rates of unemployment. In fact, official estimates place the country's rate of youth unemployment at more than 50 percent.
As a partner to the Davis program, Davidson's Center for Civic Engagement solicits project applications from Davidson students and submits the most outstanding ones to the Davis program for consideration. The program seeks grassroots projects that promote peace and address the causes of conflict.
Taye, a biology major who plans to attend medical school, moved with her family in 2005 from their home in Hawassa to Houston, Texas. She came to Davidson through the Questbridge Scholars program, and is the recipient of a Bonner Scholarship.
When she found out about Projects for Peace, Taye immediately thought of her hometown. She drew inspiration from the example of her uncle, Teferi Tesfaye, who regularly helped unemployed young men in Ethiopia find work.
Taye's proposal outlined a plan to provide sustainable means of financial support for a group of youth, and "to motivate them toward education, business and hard work." She determined the business would be a car wash because there are no other private car wash businesses in Hawassa, and the demand for the service is high given dusty road conditions. The idea seemed simple in theory, but Taye faced several significant challenges. She needed a partner organization in Hawassa that understood local commerce and politics-she found that partner in Project Hopeful, an international non-governmental organization whose mission is "to bring hope to overlooked children and vulnerable mothers around the world."
Project Hopeful helped Taye obtain approval from the government for use of two small plots of land as locations for car wash stations. Project Hopeful also helped her recruit 17 young, capable employees, and instruct them in business practices, customer service, personal finance and other life skills.
An advocate for education, Taye took the opportunity to stress to the employees the importance and value of schooling. Though all levels of education in Ethiopia are free to students, many young people drop out because they aren't able to support themselves while they attend school, she explained.
"They needed a better understanding of how they can support themselves in the long term, and of what education can mean to them in the future," she said.
Taye learned in March 2015 that her project had been approved for funding, and she worked steadily from afar during the spring semester to iron out the details. By the time she arrived in Ethiopia on June 1, many of the pieces of the business were falling into place.
Once there, she purchased the necessary equipment-jerry cans to hold water, a compressor, hoses and a donkey cart to transport water from the nearby lake.
Over the summer, her employees worked up to nine hours per day, and most of them worked seven days per week. On average, they serviced approximately 10 cars, and 10 motorcycles and three-wheeled tuk-tuks per day, earning somewhere between 500-600 birr ( $21-$28). Weekends were more profitable, with proceeds of 900-1,000 birr ( $41-$47).
Taye is back at Davidson, but both car wash stands remain in operation with oversight from Project Hopeful.Taye found her experience with the Projects for Peace program to be personally rewarding and feels that, through her project, the organization fulfilled its purpose of promoting peace.
"There are many definitions of peace," she said. "The program promoted the peace of individuals who now have a sustainable source of income for their families."
She continued, "The car wash not only allows these young men to secure a reliable source of income, but helps them realize there are people out there who will support them today and in the future when the lessons they learn through the car wash lead them to other business enterprises."
Projects for Peace encourages student initiative, innovation and entrepreneurship with foci on conflict prevention, resolution or reconciliation. Proposals for Projects for Peace grants for summer 2016 are due Jan. 29. More information about the grant, including upcoming information sessions, can be found on the Center for Civic Engagement's webpage.
Bridget Lavender '18 contributed to this article.