As PROJECT-E turns 11 this year, we want to go back to the roots of it all and find out more about how the idea to found PROJECT-E was born, and how it all started. Therefore, we interviewed Wenzel Waldstein, the founder of PROJECT-E.
Wenzel Waldstein is 33 years old, lives in Austria and works as an orthopedic. When he founded the project in 2007, he was only 21 years old. Let’s see how he made it all happen.
In 2005, Wenzel worked at an orphanage in Ethiopia, which he describes as an imprinting experience. He felt that he was making a positive impact – but only as long as he stayed there. He noticed quickly, that chances for the children who didn’t get adopted were quite slim. As they turned 18, they had to move out to make room for younger children. This was especially difficult for the orphan girls. They haven’t been getting a proper education, since they were living in poverty without any family support. Additionally, in the male-dominated Ethiopian culture, chances on the job-market were not the same for girls. Funding was only provided on an individual level – one had to be lucky.
That’s how Wenzel Waldstein got the motivation for creating a space, in which these young women could get an education in order to live a self-determined and financially independent life. He asked his brother Moritz for help and together they conducted a survey to find out what was needed in the Ethiopian economy. They came to the result, that there was a lack of qualified secretaries in Ethiopia. That is how they came up with the idea to build a secretary school to both help young women in need and the Ethiopian market.
PROJECT-E started its cooperation with the local NGO “New Life Community Organization” in order to ensure the sustainability of the project and to have a partner on the ground. They went through some ups and downs including shortage on money and staff problems amongst other things. But after a while, they managed to build a project, which provided a high-quality education for young women without prospects, and therefore gave them a chance to escape poverty. In 2009, the Secretary School was opened, and the first 15 students could begin their education.
After changing partners to Selam Chridren’s Village and finally registering the project as an Ethiopian NGO, Wenzel and Moritz resigned from the project. They actively built and sustained the project until 2013. Adding Wenzels time at the orphanage, he has spent 8 years working in Ethiopia. He says that when he first left the country after such a long time, it felt strange to go back to Austria. “I left my soul in Ethiopia, I fell in love with this country”, he told us on the interview. Especially his attendance at the Oktoberfest in Munich right after his return from Addis Ababa was a reverse culture shock for him and he couldn’t stand staying there for long.
He further describes Ethiopia as a culturally rich country without a lot of Western influences at the time and with affectionate people. Even though he is not actively involved in the project anymore, he still has a strong emotional attachment to it, as he calls the project his “Baby”. Wenzel is happy about the success of PROJECT-E and thinks that, as well as the first school, the PROJECT-E Hospitality Institute has a positive impact on the participants and the economic system, since it gives women an education that is useful in the Ethiopian’s societal context and guarantees getting a job because of the booming tourism sector in Addis Ababa.
Written by Anne Stellberger