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“They learn how to be efficient, and how to avoid throwing away cooked things,” he adds. In the spotless kitchen, the students divide up the work, with each chopping, mixing or undertaking various other preparations as needed.

Even though he works more than 60 miles from his home in the town of Shashemane, where he lives with his family, Mr. Zeleke says he does not want to search for another job; Kidist Mariam means too much to him.

“We’re changing the lives of the people. Most of the girls come from a poor background, they have complicated lives.”

To change such lives, the center extends help to those unable to pay.

“The center is trying to help the poorest of the poor. We sponsor the most vulnerable,” he says. Those who can afford tuition pay 70 birrs (less than $3) per month.

This approach, he reports, has succeeded in making a lasting impact. “Many of them find a job after the training.”

Mr. Zeleke loves to tell the story of Emebet Mekonen, a 40-year-old woman who lived in Bahrain for eight years, earning a living by preparing sandwiches in a restaurant. She came back home to Ethiopia and started training at the center a few years ago. Now, she herself teaches there. “She’s now supporting the others,” Mr. Zeleke says proudly.

On a typical morning in Emebet Mekonen’s classroom, one can see the former sandwichmaker at work. Her classroom is almost completely silent as her nine students, ranging from 18 to 27 years old, focus on their work — a first-level, six-month course covering the basics of spices, soup, pasta, fish, bread and cake.

Adjoining the classroom, the kitchen is immaculate. A window overlooks a vegetable garden where students grow lettuce, zucchini, peas and fennel. Fruit trees grow further out in the compound, yielding oranges, bananas, mangoes and papayas.

But before learning to prepare all these foods, the students must first clean and prepare the kitchen and themselves — washing their hands, cutting their nails and covering their hair. “The basic hygiene rules,” Ms. Mekonen says simply.

Through her class, the former migrant worker hopes to impart more than just how to cook. “I teach them to stay here in Ethiopia,” she says.

“Meki is a small place. A lot of people want to migrate.” When she went to Bahrain, she says, she thought life would be better there. She takes time to tell her students what she has been through.

“When you go outside, there are a lot of problems. Those people can be hard. They’re throwing people from upstairs. They lock the door so that you can’t go outside. They throw hot water on you. You don’t have time to rest. Some people come home with a broken leg or back.”

Of course, she acknowledges that joblessness can propel people farther afield in search of opportunities. However, she says, “I would not recommend going to any other country.”

Girma Takele, the 29-year-old coordinator of the Kidist Mariam Center, says social pressures at home frequently contribute to the problem of migrant labor, and often along gender lines.

“Families here use their girls to generate income — sending them to Arab countries or somewhere else to work as housemaids.”

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