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Empowering Homeless Youth in Ethiopia: Melkamu’s Story


August 16, 2023 • 4 min read

In Ethiopia, an estimated 600,000 children and teenagers are currently homeless due to severe poverty or family-related challenges. Up to 100,000 of these children and teenagers are in the capital, Addis Ababa.

Supporting at-risk young people

For over 10 years, GOAL has been working with local partners in Ethiopia to transform the lives of homeless children and teenagers. Once on the streets, children, especially young girls, are at significant risk of exploitation and abuse and may also fall victim to child labour or human trafficking. Others turn to addiction as a way of coping with the hunger, violence, and loneliness they encounter on the streets.

With the generous support of our donors, GOAL teams in Ethiopia have been providing much need psycho-social support to young people left without a home. After the children undergo counselling and receive financial and material support, they are able to start a new life. Empowered to support themselves and their peers.

Melkamu’s Story

Melkamu Debebe is an 18-year-old man who lives in Hawassa, Ethiopia. Melkamu was forced to leave his home in rural Ethiopia due to the intense poverty that he and his family faced there. He travelled to Hawassa alone in search of employment. Finding a job was not as easy as Melkamu had thought it would be. Hunger, thirst, and exhaustion became regular fixtures of Melkamu’s life. This humble and shy boy from the countryside found himself homeless and alone in one of Ethiopia’s largest cities.

“Words can’t explain the pain I experienced,” Melkamu says sadly. “I was once arrested while trying to seek shelter under the veranda of a shop one rainy night. They assumed I was trying to rob the shop, so I spent the night in jail.”

Melkamu was losing all hope until he learned about the ChildSPACE programme.

“I heard about the programme from other boys who had participated in it. I just went there with nothing to lose, and the programme changed my life for the better.”

The programme operates a small, safe compound for homeless children, which provides care, protection, and support. Melkamu began visiting the centre regularly, where he received psycho-social support. He also received financial and vocational coaching and training, which empowered him to start his own business.

“They reminded me of the reason why I came to the city in the first place, and I was provided with a training package that empowered me to generate my own income,” he says. At first, Melkamu ran a shoe shine business where he cleaned his customer’s shoes on the side of busy streets. Later on, he began selling socks, belts and other accessories.

“All that I wanted was a better life, yet I passed through many hardships. Thanks to the ChildSPACE programme, I started a new life. Hard work is the only way out of poverty, and that is what I am doing right now. I work ten or more hours a day. I pay rent, and l am able to provide basics. I now take care of my brother. We work together during daytime and attend night school together,” he adds.

Melkamu has many new friends who he was introduced to during his participation in the ChildSPACE programme. Now, Melkamu is not alone.

Melkamu running his business, where he sells ties, belts, and other accessories.

Providing Life-Saving Support To Children

Over the last ten years, the ChildSPACE project has supported over 18,000 street-connected children and young people in Addis Ababa and Hawassa. Mandy Yamanis, GOAL’s Global Safeguarding Advisor, visited the Sidama region in Ethiopia and reflected on the importance of the services being provided in the ChildSPACE compound, which currently houses up to 100 street children.

“It may not seem much to access a clean shower, body lotion or dignity kit for someone who lives in her or his parents’ house, yet once the children start being homeless, life becomes a struggle. Even having a decent meal once a day could be impossible. It is comforting to see an organisation such as GOAL and its partners working hard to create a safe space where the street children could come and access psychosocial support, health care and referral linkage, training, indoor and outdoor games and other services,” Mandy said. The ChildSPACE programme costs €450,000 to run every year in Hawassa and Addis Ababa. Worryingly, funding is only available to run the programme in Hawassa until the end of 2023, and there is no funding commitment beyond that date.

Speaking about generating funds to ensure the ongoing delivery of the ChildSPACE programme, Asefa Getaneh, Executive Director of COC, said: “It is sad to see funds drying up for such initiatives. Street children are the most vulnerable segment of urban communities. No one is there to advocate for them in the community or administrative structures. I hope we will have the opportunity to get additional funds to extend the service.”

To help keep the ChildSPACE project open and ensure that children and young people remain off the streets in these already dangerous cities, please consider donating by calling GOAL Global on +353 01 280 9779.