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Supporting at-risk youth in Ethiopia: Maheder’s Story


October 18, 2023 • 4 min read

In Ethiopia, an estimated 600,000 children and teenagers are currently homeless due to severe poverty or family-related challenges.

Supporting at-risk young people

For over 10 years, GOAL has been working with local partners in Ethiopia to transform the lives of homeless and at-risk 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-needed support to young people who are experiencing homelessness or are at risk of becoming homeless in Addis Ababa and Hawassa. 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.

Maheder’s Story

Maheder Abebe is a 23-year-old woman who lives in Hawassa, Ethiopia. Her father passed away when she was a child, plunging her family into financial insecurity. “We were very poor. Our life was miserable.”

It was not easy. Our mother is the strongest woman I know. She did everything in her power to raise us,” Maheder explained. “She worked as a housemaid. But even though she worked hard to provide for us, we sometimes had to go without food.” 

To help support her family, Maheder tried to find labour work in her village. “I started looking for work when the situation got worse. It was horrible,” Maheder said, tearfully. “I was unlucky, and there was no work for me.”

When Maheder and her family were on the brink of homelessness, Maheder was approached by a social worker from GOAL’s local partner, Centre of Concern. The social worker was in Maheder’s village to support street children and vulnerable youth. She explained the support that GOAL’s ChildSPACE project offers to at-risk youth, and Maheder did not hesitate to accept her offer and seize the opportunity.

“I was so excited seeing how caring and respectful they were,” Maheder said. “I was also fascinated by the life-skill training they provided. It was all that I needed. I was in desperate need of someone or something to show me how to lead a purposeful life.” 

After completing the soft-skill training, Maheder was selected for additional hard-skill training. She attended a three-month hair styling course and graduated with a skill that changed her life. “At the end of the hard skill training, we were instructed to attend a photoshoot programme for a graduation magazine. I was so emotional.” 

Maheder honed and perfected her skills, and has since been hired as an assistant trainer, teaching hair styling to beginners. Currently, she is studying accounting in a distance degree programme, while supporting her mother and brother with the income she earns from hairdressing. 

“I am so grateful to GOAL and Centre of Concern for their support and encouragement. I don’t take what was done for me for granted. I am empowered to dream big, and I am sure I will make you all proud.” 

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Maheder is now a professional hair stylist

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.