Few programs in Africa have sought to address social exclusion, lack of educational opportunities, and sexual exploitation and violence among the most marginalized girls in the poorest communities, including child domestic workers and migrant girls. Biruh Tesfa means “Bright Future” in Amharic and is an evidence-based program of the Population Council for the most marginalized out-of-school girls in low-income, urban Ethiopia.

Biruh Tesfa uses a safe spaces approach led by adult female mentors from project communities. Trained mentors recruit girls by going house-to-house in their communities, allowing them to identify and engage girls who may otherwise be missed, such as child domestic workers who are largely confined to the home. In-home contact also allows mentors to negotiate for girls’ participation with the gatekeepers such as employers, who might be resistant to domestic workers’ participation. Once in the safe spaces groups, girls take part in a program that includes literacy, numeracy, and life and livelihoods skills. The project includes linkage with social, legal, and medical services and has recently introduced group and individual counseling.

Biruh Tesfa reaches girls who are highly vulnerable, socially excluded, and overlooked by other programs. Roughly two-thirds (67%) of Biruh Tesfa beneficiaries are migrants from rural areas and 76% live away from parents; 40% are domestic workers; and over 50% have never attended school. Over the years, the project has reached over 100,000 girls in multiple Ethiopian cities.

The program has been evaluated through rigorous research and has been shown to have positive impacts on girls’ social networks and support, mental health, literacy and numeracy, knowledge of HIV and reproductive health, and use of health services.