After living on three continents and exploring a number of careers, Telile “Lily” Yoseph found that her life’s purpose and passion lay in her own backyard— the small community in Kofele, Ethiopia where she was born in 1963.
“Kofele was a peaceful and prosperous place back then,” Lily recalls. Her father was a respected community leader. She and her six siblings enjoyed a loving and happy life, experiencing the good feeling that comes from caring for others. “My father is my hero,” she says. “My parents and my uncle’s family always reached out to those less fortunate. Though they were not rich by worldly standards, they gave shelter and food to many people who needed assistance.”
After high school, Lily expanded her horizons, moving to the Netherlands where she studied Dutch, office administration, and tourism. From there she moved to Los Angeles, California, where she enjoyed success working in real estate and earning a degree in fashion merchandising.
Yet in the years away from her family, Lily had experienced some difficult times and still had not found what she called her “life’s purpose.” So in 2008, after 25 years away from home, Lily returned to Ethiopia. In preparation for her trip, she collected $5,000 from friends and family to help people in need.
When she arrived in Ethiopia, the poverty she saw was much greater than she expected. “I knew that Ethiopia had changed since I had left as a girl,” she says. “But I wasn’t prepared for the magnitude of that change. It was heart-breaking. I cried a lot.”
Knowing that she could not help everyone, Lily made the decision to help one family in a way that would immediately and concretely improve their lives. She chose a family with eight children and had a house built for them. It was during the construction of that home that Lily met Ubo, a seven-year-old girl who stayed at home doing domestic chores to help her family rather than going to school. “One day, I took her picture and showed her the photo, ”Lily says. ”She smiled and said, ‘I didn’t know I’m that beautiful.’”
That encounter touched Lily deeply. She says, “I made a decision that day to do all I could to make sure that no girl would grow up without knowing how beautiful she is or having the opportunity to go to school.” After arranging to support Ubo’s education herself, Lily flew home to California and, with the hope of creating opportunities for more girls like Ubo, established Tangible Hope Foundation—a nonprofit that runs on a shoestring budget out of her one-bedroom apartment. To support herself, Lily works three part-time jobs, an arrangement that allows her to dedicate her efforts to seeking sponsorships for girls back home.
“I have 51 daughters now,” Lily says. “And I am giving them the love and opportunities I was so fortunate to have as a child.” With her help, the girls attend school, receive English instruction, and are building the confidence they need to succeed in life.
Lily returns to visit each year. “I still cry when I go back to Ethiopia,” she says, “but now I cry tears of joy at how well the girls are doing.” Lily is eager for the day when she can expand the foundation’s reach by finding sponsors for the 50 girls already on the Foundation’s waiting list and building an after-school center on a small plot of land donated to Tangible Hope Foundation by the local government.
“I was born in one of the poorest countries in the world, but I was blessed to grow up in a family that loved and cared for me and gave me the confidence to pursue my dreams,” says Lily. “Now I have the opportunity to live in the wealthiest country in the world and give back to those less fortunate. I have committed my life to serving others and making a difference.”