Clean peace

Davidson student returns home to Ethiopia to provide jobs to the jobless

Taye (center) poses with some of her carwash’s staff and a few water jugs ready to clean the cars of the city

While the members of the Sullivan network have always been confined to the American South, the reach of the Sullivan Foundation is meant to be global.

That truth couldn’t be better exemplified in a single person than it is in Telavive Taye, who moved halfway around the world from Ethiopia to Houston, Texas, and ultimately Davidson College in Davidson, North Carolina. Only there did she discover how she could return home and make it a better place… by starting a car wash.

Projects for Peace, a part of the Davis United World Scholars Program, awards grants and encourages student initiative, innovation, and entrepreneurship focused on conflict prevention, resolution, or reconciliation. The grants are given to project ideas the program finds truly exceptional so that college undergraduates can get a chance to make their dreams become reality.

Taye learned about the grants and applied through Davidson’s Center for Civic Engagement, which 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.

Awash with inspiration

A line of vehicles waits for washing outside the carwash created by Davidson College student and native Ethiopian Telavive Taye. The carwash is located in Taye’s hometown of Hawassa

Taye’s idea? A new car wash enterprise in her hometown of Hawassa, Ethiopia. Drawing inspiration from the example of her uncle, Teferi Tesfaye, who regularly helped unemployed young men in Ethiopia find work, Taye envisioned 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. Official estimates place Ethiopia’s rate of youth unemployment at more than 50 percent.

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.

Both the Center for Civic Engagement and the Davis program were clearly impressed. She found out in March 2015 that she would receive $10,000 to get her car wash off the ground, so she got to work immediately.

Building from afar

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.

“The car wash not only allows these young men to secure a reliable source of income,” she says, “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.”

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.

“They needed a better understanding of how they can support themselves in the long term,” she says, “and of what education can mean to them in the future.”

A clean success

By the time Taye 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).

Even since Taye’s return to Davidson, both car washes 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.”

Taye, a biology major and member of the class of 2017, plans to attend medical school after graduation.

This article was adapted from one originally produced by Davidson College, with contributions from Bridget Lavender, class of 2018. To read the original piece, please visit

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