She did what others only dream: this volunteer’s adventure helps young women see beyond Beyonce and Oprah

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From L-R: Mary Jane Wagle,  Alfa Demmellash, Hirut Befecadu, Julie-Mehretu (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

Peacemaker, entrepreneur, artist: These are some faces of modern Ethiopian women. Mary Jane Wagle wants to print them indelibly in the minds of young women in the country she’s come to love.

After running Planned Parenthood here in Los Angeles, and helping to raise money locally to build affordable housing, Wagle found herself longing for a challenge in a new land. That lead her to Addis Ababa, where she’s been helping to gather and tell the stories of women. Disturbed that local girls listed western celebrities like Oprah and Beyonce as their heroes, she wanted to help people see the role models who are closer to home.

The resulting website is Ethiopian Women Unleashed, and a book is to follow. Young women there in particular are not familiar with local heroes, stories of strong women doing important work, in part, Wagle says, because they’re not conditioned to discuss their achievements.

Here’s what Mary Jane told us about it when she dropped by KCRW during her summer break: