By Jessica Floum
Marin Independent Journal

Eight-year-old Telile (Lily) Yoseph stood bright-eyed with her father in their home in Kofele, Ethiopia. Pointing to a map, she told him, “I want to go here and here and here and meet people everywhere.”

Her father smiled at her love of people, and would later support her in helping others around the globe.

Yoseph, 48, now lives in Sausalito in a one-bedroom apartment that doubles as a workspace for Tangible Hope, her two-year-old nonprofit dedicated to empowering young girls in Ethiopia by providing them with food, clothing, health care and tutoring.

“The goal is to bring them to finish high school,” Yoseph said. “If they’re clever they’ll go on to college or they can go to a vocational school. Breaking the cycle of poverty and empowering these girls (is) the biggest plan and dream I have.”

The eldest of eight, Yoseph grew up in Ethiopia in what she called a loving, middle class family.

Her parents, she said, were the biggest influences in her life and in starting the foundation. Her father, Yoseph Sado Ereso, used to be a governor and a mayor in Ethiopia and is now living in Portland, Ore., after seeking political asylum. Yoseph remembers her parents’ constant generosity that manifested in adopting children off the streets when she was young.

“Everything I know is giving and helping,” Yoseph said. “That’s all I knew.”

Having lived in Europe for about 13 years and in the United States for 10 years, Yoseph founded

Tangible Hope after returning to Ethiopia. Yoseph had survived a serious car crash, her fourth brush with death, and decided that she needed to find new purpose in her life.

“Nothing was fulfilling in my life,” Yoseph said. “I had this impulse feeling that I had to go back to my home town to find my purpose.”

In 2008, she returned to Kofele after 25 years away to find a cause in which she would invest her time and $5,000 she had collected from friends and family.

“The first week, every day I was crying,” Yoseph said. “The way I grew up and the way it was — there was so much change, so much poverty.”

In Kofele, Yoseph encountered a family of eight who lived in a small hut with no bathroom, one small window and not enough space for the entire family, one member of which had been born as a consequence of rape, a common crime in the town.

“That broke me,” Yoseph said. “I just broke down.”

She recruited town members and built a new home for the family in one week. The new home has two bedrooms, a kitchen and a bathroom.

“When I did that, the joy I got completely changed my life,” Yoseph said.

A young girl named Ubo directed Yoseph’s new-found passion. At 7 years old, Ubo worked alongside her mother as a maid in Yoseph’s uncle’s home. She worked as though she were an adult, Yoseph said, heating coals for coffee and cleaning. Inspired by her bright spirit, Yoseph photographed the little girl, who had never seen her own image. When Ubo saw a herself in the photo she told Yoseph, “I didn’t know I was so beautiful.” Ubo’s comment inspired Yoseph to focus her charitable intentions on girls, age 7 to 10. That’s the age they remember everything, she said.

“I said this is it,” Yoseph recalled.

Yoseph founded Tangible Hope in 2010, which has since enabled her to recruit local individuals and families to sponsor 51 girls by donating $1 a day. She continues to work in real estate part time, but plans to give it up once she can make a livable salary as the head of Tangible Hope.

“For me to be able to do this, it is because the help of the community,” Yoseph said.

Before entering the program, the girls are malnourished, and many have parasites due to a lack of clean water. Many face poverty and neglect at home.

“The kids that smile are loved, but they are hungry,” Yoseph said.

Each new sponsorship brings another young girl into the Tangible Hope foundation, which means that they receive new clothing, tutoring three times a week, a monthly meal of grains and medical examinations and treatment. Money is also spent on taking the girls on field trips “to make them feel special.”

“It isn’t just putting food on the table or sending clothes,” said Jeremy John, 44, owner of Wellington’s Wine Bar and a Corte Madera resident. “From the moment a child enters into the academy of Tangible Hope, there is going to be a huge, significant change in someone’s life.”

John has hosted fundraisers for Tangible Hope at Wellington’s Wine Bar and sponsors Velisa, 9, in Kofele. John said that Yoseph’s personal relationships with the girls and the direct impact that sponsors see sets Tangible Hope apart from other nonprofits; Yoseph visits the girls in Kofele once a year using her own money.

“You see the pictures, the smiles, ” John said. “Really you see that these children are getting everything they need right up until the point where they can be released into the world with education.”

The organization now has a local board of four members and a team of eight volunteers in Ethiopia.

Yoseph hopes to have 100 girls sponsored by 2013 and thousands in the future. She also plans to build a facility on the acre and a half piece of land Tangible Hope owns in Ethiopia so the girls have a safe space to study, get medical examinations and Skype with their sponsors in the U.S.

“The vision is global,” Yoseph said. “There is no limit.”