Biruh Tesfa (“Bright Future”)

Biruh Tesfa is an evidence-based program that provides marginalized out-of-school girls in urban Ethiopia with the education, resources, and skills they need to increase literacy and numeracy skills and improve their health and wellbeing.

The Issue

Few programs in Africa have sought to address social exclusion, lack of educational opportunities and vulnerability to sexual exploitation and HIV among the most marginalized girls in the poorest communities, including child domestic workers, migrant girls and girls with disabilities. Biruh Tesfa (“Bright Future”) reaches the poorest adolescent girls in urban Ethiopia, builds their literacy and numeracy skills, builds social support networks, and improves their knowledge and skills.

The Progress

Biruh Tesfa, an evidence-based program conceptualized by the Population Council, has reached more than 75,000 out-of-school adolescent girls (aged 7 to 24) living in urban Ethiopian slums. It uses trained adult female mentors to provide nonformal education on basic literacy, numeracy, life skills, financial literacy and savings, and education about HIV and reproductive health, and links them with health services in the area.

The program sends trained adult female mentors house-to-house to find and invite eligible out-of-school girls to participate in the program. This house-to-house approach allows mentors to have contact with girls who may otherwise be missed, such as child domestic workers who are largely confined to the home, girls with disabilities, and children in commercial sexual exploitation. In-home contact also allows mentors to negotiate girls’ participation with the adults with whom they live and to serve as advocates for girls if they encounter future problems.

The program previously worked in collaboration with the Ethiopia Ministry of Women, Children and Youth Affairs and its regional bureaus.  It is one of only a few rigorously evaluated support programs that serve marginalized girls in sub-Saharan Africa.

Recent evaluations of the program found that girls living in areas where Biruh Tesfa operated were:

  • Twice as likely to report having social support than girls living in a comparison area where Biruh Tesfa was not implemented
  • Twice as likely to score highly on HIV knowledge questions, to know where to obtain voluntary counseling and testing, and to want to be tested than girls living in a comparison area where Biruh Tesfa was not implemented.
  • Compared to out-of-school girls in control sites, Biruh Tesfa participants scored significantly higher on literacy and numeracy test and were 1.5 times more likely to have visited a health service in the past year.

The Impact

With support from DFID’s Girls’ Education Challenge, the program is now scaling up as “Biruh Tesfa for All” to reach even more girls.  The program aims to reach 10,500 additional girls living in modern slavery, including forced domestic servitude, girls who are trafficked, and girls living with disabilities in Addis Ababa, Bahir Dar and Shashamene.

As part of the scale up, public meeting spaces and learning materials will be made inclusive for girls with disabilities, including visual, hearing, mobility and intellectual impairments.  Additionally, mentors’ teaching skills will be tailored to address girls with disabilities. Girls will receive support, including mobility aids, transport and accompaniment, to attend safe space meetings. Schools will also be upgraded to increase access and learning opportunities for girls with disabilities.  At the end of the project, the girls will receive support to enroll in formal education and enter safer forms of work, including small businesses. 

Birhu Tesfa is part of the Population Council’s portfolio of comprehensive, girl-centered programs, also including Berhane Hewan (“Light for Eve”) and Meseret Hiwott (“Base of Life”).

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