Reaching Out to Street Children in Ethiopia

by Retrak America
Ermias at his sewing machine
Ermias at his sewing machine

Meet Ermias. Ermias comes from a very poor family in rural Ethiopia. His father passed away when he was very young. His mother had four children to support and couldn't afford to pay Ermias' school fees, so he had no option but to drop out of school. With no work to be had and therefore no money to be made in his poor village, Ermias decided to leave his home in search of a better life. He made his way to the capital city of Addis Ababa, where he hoped that he could find a job and make enough money to help his mother and siblings.

Ermias didn't find work in Addis Ababa, but he did find Retrak. At the Retrak clubhouse, Ermias was provided with a good meal and a safe place to sleep. In counseling sessions with a Retrak social worker, he expressed a keen interest in a vocational skills training program. Retrak helped him secure a place in a tailoring training program. He successfully completed his training and is now employed by a private garment company.

Ernias is now eighteen years old. He's gainfully employed and earning enough money that he can support not only himself, but also his mother and siblings. In the future he wants to open his own workshop and create job opportunities for other young people from his village.

With your help, Ermias has found a way off of the streets and back to his family and community. On behalf of Ermias and the other children in our program, thank you for your support.

Women's Self Help Group in Hossana, Ethiopia

For over 20 years, Retrak has been working to return street children to families. What you may not know is that we also work to prevent children from going to the streets in the first place. In the Hossana region of Ethiopia, Retrak is working to reduce the “push factors” that drive children to the streets by helping local women become financially and socially empowered to become better parents.

When we asked our project workers to single out a case study to help illustrate the success of our Hossana project, one woman came to mind - Elana. Elana has seven daughters, two sons and an elderly husband who refuses to work. To make ends meet Elana sold food at the local market. Life was tough and looking after nine young children soon began to take its toll.

However, all this changed when Elana joined Retrak’s Self Help Group, one of six in the area. Within a month she was able to save 345 Birr (around $16) and take out a loan from the group, allowing her to scale up her small trade. At the Self Help Group meetings, Elana also received training on parenting skills, including better ways of dealing with her children’s misbehavior. It was during one of these sessions that Elana stood up and thanked Retrak for their intervention, “The way I used to raise my children is very different to what is being taught here. I used to punish my children by hitting them very hard…cursing and insulting them relentlessly”.

She then told the group how this behavior affected her 14-year-old daughter. One day her daughter had made a mistake preparing food for the market.  She was so afraid of the punishment and the curse that would come from her mother that she left home. With each passing day she feared greater retribution. Things reached a tipping point when Elana found out that her daughter had become pregnant at the age of 14. Allowing her temper to boil over, Elana chased her daughter through the neighborhood with an axe.

She confessed that she had contributed to the problem, “My children are not the ones who made the mistake. It was me who made the mistake. Had it been I continued down this path, all my children may have left home and gone to the street.” She then left the meeting to call her daughter and ask her to come back home.

The following week her daughter returned to the family home. Currently Elana is taking greater steps to create a loving and safe environment for her children and future grandchild. Her daughter also testifies to this change in behavior, “My mother has changed a lot. She still gets annoyed but now she calms down much quicker. She has stopped hitting us and is encouraging us to think about our futures. Because of this I have also decided to continue my education next year.”

Elana is just one of many women (and their children) who have benefitted from Retrak's Self Help Group program. Thank you for the support you provide that enables us to work with this community in Ethiopia. 


Ahmed (left) and his family
Ahmed (left) and his family

The latest success story to come from Retrak Ethiopia is that of Ahmed*, who joined Retrak’s program two years ago when he was 17 years old.

Upon leaving his rural home in search of a better life in the capital of Addis Ababa, Ahmed soon found himself living on the streets. Ahmed realized his mistake and, despite desperately wanting to return home to his family, he could not afford to do so.

Luckily, Ahmed heard from other boys living on the street about Retrak’s local center. Soon after, he met with Retrak’s outreach workers and was invited to join our program. With the guidance of social worker Biruk Nidaw, Ahmed flourished through both our counseling and education services, before being successfully reunited with his family in October 2012.

Biruk has been following up with Ahmed on his many achievements since reuniting with his family. While only 15.7% of boys in Ethiopia attend secondary school (UNICEF, 2012), Ahmed’s business brain has shined through against the odds. Not only has he completed grade 10 of secondary education, but he has also gone on to set up his own highly profitable business selling clothes in his local community. Through this entrepreneurial venture, Ahmed has been able to support his family, but his dreams are even bigger still. He next has his heart set on establishing his own woodworking business after completing his vocational training in carpentry.

Biruk believes that Ahmed’s family played an important role in his success. In offering their love and support, Ahmed was encouraged to keep up his motivation for change. Commenting on the Income Generating Activity grant Ahmed received from Retrak to support his work ambitions, his father noted ‘I was unable to give him that help, so I was serious and followed him to make sure he spent the money wisely. I never took his money to use for our daily expenses’. Ahmed himself added ‘I had no hope of returning home by myself. If I had been ignored by Retrak and not joined the program my life would have ended on the street being addicted to different drugs’. 

We look forward to bringing you more stories of young people like Ahmed. Thanks to the fantastic work of Retrak staff and your amazingly generous support, more children can now look forward to a positive and prosperous future in 2015 and beyond.

*Name changed to protect the child’s identity 


Thank you from Retrak
Thank you from Retrak

Twenty years ago, two expats living in Kampala, Uganda, started playing pick-up soccer after work with a group of street boys. Little did they know in 1994 that over the course of the next two decades, this soccer club would evolve into a highly effective and respected organization that would change the lives of thousands of vulnerable boys and girls and their families in five African countries.

Oscar was one of the hundreds of children who walked through the gates of Retrak’s Clubhouses last year, taking that first step off of the streets and into a new life. After enduring many months of hardship alone on the streets of Kampala, Oscar found love and support at the Clubhouse. Oscar was a bit older than most of the children in Retrak's program, and with the guidance of a Retrak social worker, decided to pursue vocational training in metal welding with the hope of someday supporting himself independently. Retrak supported Oscar through his training and apprenticeship and assisted him as he transitioned into independent living, supplying him with support for accommodation, food, and a few simple tools.

Oscar is living completely independently now, working as a welder and saving money to start his own welding business and hire an assistant. He is forever grateful to Retrak, saying,

“I can’t imagine where I am now compared with two years back when food and shelter were my priority concerns. Today I can afford to eat what I choose and have a rented room for my home. Retrak you mean the world to me for without you I would not have had a chance to live again”

Our work is vital to children like Oscar and to the thousands more like him who are living outside of the protection of a loving family. We wouldn’t be able to do this work without the support of donors like you. Thank you for helping make our work possible!

Oscar learned welding at a Vocational School
Oscar learned welding at a Vocational School
Girls at Retrak Ethiopia
Girls at Retrak Ethiopia
Kids in Retrak
Kids in Retrak's programs receive nutritious meals
There's always time to play!
Ayana came to work in Addis when she was only 5
Ayana came to work in Addis when she was only 5

#GivingTuesday has finally arrived! This is an exciting opportunity for Retrak because Microsoft is giving a 100% match to any gift that you make to Retrak through GlobalGiving, up to $500!

Please donate soon, as matching funds could run out quickly. By donating to Retrak now, you can double the impact that Retrak makes with children living on the streets of Africa, helping them return to a loving home and family.

Your donation will help children like Ayana, a young Ethiopian girl who was sent by her aunt to a life of domestic servitude when she was 5 years old. In exchange for food and shelter, Ayana spent her days scrubbing floors, washing clothes and preparing meals for a family. When she was 14 years old, her employer beat her and forced her out onto the streets. Fortunately for Ayana, Retrak heard of her situation and stepped in to help. Ayana was reintegrated with her family and is living in a stable, loving and supportive home. You can read more about Ayana here.

Fred is another child who was helped by Retrak. Retrak’s outreach workers in Kampala, Uganda, met Fred for the first time during a regular soccer training session. Activities like these, held near the streets where the children live, provide a chance to get to know the children and for them to understand what Retrak can offer. Over the course of the following week, Fred joined in with soccer and other games, as well as getting good meals and attending the education and life-skills classes at the drop-in center. By the end of the week, Retrak’s outreach worker had learned that Fred had been on the streets for some time. Since he hated getting dirty and sleeping outside, he mopped the floor in a video hall every evening so that he could sleep inside. He had run away from home after his parents divorced and his father wouldn’t care for him.

After 5 months of counseling and preparation at the halfway home, Fred was able to return to live with his mother. He’s now settled at home and is back in school. You can read more of Fred’s story here.

On behalf of Ayana and Fred, and the thousands of vulnerable children that Retrak works with every year, thank you again for supporting us in our vital work in Africa. Please make a #GivingTuesday donation to Retrak today.

Soccer is one of the ways Retrak reaches children
Soccer is one of the ways Retrak reaches children



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Organization Information

Retrak America

Location: Washington, DC - USA
Website: https:/​/​​
Project Leader:
Joan Townsend
US Country Director
Washington, DC United States
$53,090 raised of $80,000 goal
759 donations
$26,910 to go
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