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Nigisti Gebreselassie, founder and general manager of Yenege Tesfa, second from left Nigisti Gebreselassie, founder and general manager of Yenege Tesfa, second from left
20 April 2013 Written by 

Yenege Tesfa: More than hope for the street children of Gondar

By Aude Vogele

Yenege Tesfa is a local nongovernmental organization in the town of Gondar in the Amhara Regional State and has been operational since 2001.

It became an official organization in 2004. The NGO has four main objectives. First, it wants to provide homes for at least 400 children. Second, it intends to make education accessible to all children in the city. Third, they have one main goal of offering free healthcare to all children who cannot afford medical assistance. Last but not least, the organization aims to tackle the causes of child homelessness thanks to social education and vocational trainings.

Nowadays, the association has four shelters each hosting around 17 children. In each house, there are father and mother models and a big brother. All the children go to public school, which is mandatory. Such an organization is efficient and successful because it recreates a family environment for these children. There is a lot of solidarity between them. It was important to create an environment that allows them to act like other children, they go to school, have friends, and the shelters look more like a home than an orphanage.

This kind of organization works very well because most of the children are in the top three of their class. The children of the first shelter are now adults. One of them has already graduated and works as teacher in a technical school. Others are still students in various fields like engineering, political science or at the Ethiopian airlines. Yenege Tesfa has managed to get them individual sponsorship to finance their study fees and their life. Thanks to real and current support, the children managed to change their life and will become responsible and self-sufficient.

The children of the shelter are selected by the government and local administration. There are different criteria to enter the shelter. The children must be orphans, or live in the streets with a single parent. The association also welcomes girls from 8 to 12 who are working as maids.

To fulfill its four objectives, the association sets up numerous activities. Among others, the NGO built partnerships with governmental clinics to provide medical support to street children. They also have an agreement with some cheap bistros in the city. When a street child is sick, he can eat for free for seven days in these eateries. This year, Yenege Tesfa provided educational support to 530 children by giving pens, uniforms, exercises books and the like. They also have a program called “bright mind” which provides financial help to the children or young adults who cannot afford their study. The NGO offers trainings about life skills, HIV awareness, psychosocial, and Income Generating Activities. They also sell bread coupons in big hotels, Internet cafes, and supermarkets. Concerning the education of the street children, they have had a mobile school since October 2012 thanks to a Belgian partner. From Monday to Thursday, eight teachers and volunteers give lessons for one hour and a half, twice a day.

Nigisti Gebreselassie is the founder and general manager of the organization. The path to build the organization has not been so easy, but as a woman with convictions, she succeeded in building an efficient organization and in finding good partnerships.

When she was a child, one of her friends lost his parents and ended up in the streets. This has been the brainwave for helping children who don’t choose their situation and cannot do anything about it.

The organization has been built little by little. At the beginning, she hosted one boy, then ten boys.  One of the first actions of the NGO was to bring education to children of the streets. For that, they built a partnership with the Sati Tsadiku Yohannes School, a primary school in Gondar. The teachers agreed to give lessons one hour per day during one week. They found 75 children, living in the street who volunteered to go to school. It was a start, but it was not a big success, some children dropped out. They understood that the children environment was a key factor. 

The growth of the organization is due to the partnerships, sometimes surprising, which it has succeeded in building. At the beginning, the organization needed everything: food and furniture like bed and mattress. Nigisti met one man from the Gondar Prison and told him about her needs. He proposed her to go to prison, where there are leftover foods, and ask the director and the prisoners, if they agreed to share their food. Nigisti couldn’t imagine finding a partnership with a correctional facility, but at the end, all prisoners accepted to share their food with the children. This partnership really gave a new drive to Nigisti and the organization, because it was possible to find generosity from people they did not expect. After that, they found many partnerships and help from other organizations such as the Gondar hospital which gave them ten mattress and double beds.

Nigisti Gebreselassie faced many obstacles while building Yenege Tesfa. As a woman, it was all the more complicated, but she was not the kind of person to give up easily. The evolution of the organization shows that everybody with willingness and motivation has the possibility to act to change one’s world.

Ed’s Note: The writer is on an internship at The Reporter.