About Us

Dereje & Mindi Aleme, the founders of Lighting the Ethiopian Path, are blessed to have the perspectives of two countries: Ethiopia and America. Dereje Aleme was born in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia with a population of over 4 million. He left his country as a refugee when he was young and later lived and worked in several Africa countries before moving to Kampala, Uganda. Mindi Aleme was born in a small town in Colorado. She moved to Kampala, Uganda a few years after completion of her degree at Pepperdine University.

While working at a Christian non-profit educational resource center, the two met and were engaged. After spending the next 7 years in Los Angeles, they are returning to Ethiopia with their two little boys. While faith in a ever-present, loving Lord prompts both to spend their lives in service, Dereje is further driven by his personal experience of life on the streets when living as a young refugee. Knowing the difficulties of this dangerous life first-hand, Dereje is passionately seeking to help the homeless teens on the streets of Ethiopia. Believing that education is the key to transformation, the two started working on innovative ways to approach the communities most vulnerable to the cycle of poverty. In addition to his connections in Ethiopia, Dereje brings his experience in management and entrepreneurship to the organization. Mindi brings over 12 years of professional experience in education administration and student services along with community development. Mindi is currently completing her Masters in Social Entrepreneurship and Change. Lighting the Ethiopian Path is the result of their vision, but is equally infused with the wisdom of their dedicated Board of Directors.

Board of Directors:
With backgrounds in education, construction, non-profit administration, direction of homeless services, and the founding of other African schools, the Lighting the Ethiopian Path Board of Directors comprise a truly amazing group of servant leaders. We are thankful for their time, support, and continued encouragement.

Amy Turk, Secretary — Amy holds a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology (2001) and completed her Master of Social Work degree (MSW) in May of 2009. From 2002 to the present she has worked as a Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Certified Counselor. From 2005 to the present she has worked as a Project Director at Daybreak (a Project of OPCC), from April 2003 to June 2005 as a Shelter Manager at Daybreak, and from January 2001 to April 2003 as a Case Manager at Daybreak Shelter.

LaVera Eugene Hamilton Otoyo, Board Member — LaVera is an Educator, School Social Worker, and Juvenile Court Counselor. Her academic degrees include a Bachelor of Science in Sociology and Education (Bishop College – 1946), a Masters in Psychiatric Social Work (UCLA – 1958), and a Doctorate in Institutional Management (Pepperdine – 1982). She has worked as an elementary and high school teacher, a school social worker, and a school principal, and has been involved with church and missionary activities in the U.S. and Nigeria for 45 years, providing educational opportunities and community development. Her mission activities in Nigeria centered around starting and running a K-12 school, which makes her experience most helpful to our organization.

Ezra Plank, Board Member — Ezra is currently a PhD candidate in Religious Studies at The University of Iowa, focusing on religious history. He holds a Bachelor’s degree (1999) and a Master’s degree (2006) in Religion from Pepperdine University. From 1999-2006 he was employed at Pepperdine as a Coordinator in Student Programming as well as a Resident Director in the Residential Life Office. Through volunteer projects he has guided students toward a service-oriented path to create a more humane and just world. He has guided service trips to Los Angeles, Northern Arizona, New Orleans and Central Mexico. And he has experience in all aspects of construction, often serving as a job-site coordinator on such service projects.

Your word is a lamp to my feet
and a light for my path. Psalms 119:105

Core Values

As a Christian organization, we believe that knowledge alone is vanity. “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”(Matthew 4:4) The late Emperor of Ethiopia, Haile Selassie put it this way:
Education develops the intellect; and the intellect distinguishes man from other creatures. It is education that enables man to harness nature and utilize her resources for the well-being and improvement of his life. The key for the betterment and completeness of modern living is education. But, ' Man cannot live by bread alone '. Man, after all, is also composed of intellect and soul. Therefore, education in general, and higher education in particular, must aim to provide, beyond the physical, food for the intellect and soul. That education which ignores man's intrinsic nature, and neglects his intellect and reasoning power cannot be considered true education.
LEP believes that faith and education are complementary, strengthening and informing each other. Viewing churches as important stakeholders within Ethiopian communities, LEP hopes to meet real world individual needs of ultra-poor community members hoping to become literate, employed, and educated while connecting individuals and families with a group of Christians that will empower families with life skills leading to self-sustainability. Faith in God, hope for the future, and the loving acceptance of a church family are important sources of strength in anyone’s life. And as a deeply religious society, LEP’s inclusion of all stakeholders within a community, especially church members, is directly in tune with Ethiopian culture.