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Mr. Takele has deep personal ties to the community of St. Paul, which supported him when he was a neglected child without a mother or father. This inspired him to dedicate his life to helping others, in turn.

In today’s world, he says, the primary goal of the center must be skills training. “The second goal is women’s empowerment,” he says. Women are marginalized in many ways, he says, which highlights the importance of offering ways to improve their lives and dignity.

“We want to make them feel special — to give them confidence.”

Educational programs are key to this process. According to the Demographic and Health Survey Program’s 2016 report on Ethiopia, compiled in cooperation with the Central Statistics Agency in Addis Ababa, about half of females age 6 or older have attended school, compared with about two-thirds of males. Although primary-school attendance rates in cities are roughly equal, disparities come into sharp relief in populations further above the age of 16, and farther from urban centers.

“Being a woman in our culture is a burden,” says 20-year-old Rehedet Salomon. “We are not free to do whatever we want. We can’t walk alone at night. We have so many responsibilities and duties.”

The short, slender young woman with curly hair says she had no money to go to school when her father died, so she had to drop out at an early age. At the center, Ms. Salomon is now taking an introductory course in sewing — a possible route to security and stability.

All around her, the center bustles with constant activity. This morning, second-level students completed a major project, distributing uniforms they made to students of neighboring schools. Now, while Ms. Salomon concentrates on a pattern at the sewing table, a young woman next to her takes the measurements of a student with a small waist. Farther away, a group of a dozen young women sell garments they made at their cooperative, where they utilize the skills they learned in class.

“It’s a miracle for me to be here,” says Ms. Salomon.

The student says she likes Kidist Mariam Center because she also learns discipline, etiquette and morals. She moreover appreciates what the Catholic program has been doing for the community.

“They don’t select people; they’re not forcing anybody to share their religion.”

Every Monday morning, the students gather in the center’s chapel to pray. This is time Lensa Tolosa treasures. Today, sitting in the center’s salon while another student braids her hair, Ms. Tolosa remembers how she used to pray often when she was in Beirut, asking God to protect her.

She migrated to Lebanon to earn money for her brothers, who had dropped out of school because their family could not afford tuition. She returned to Ethiopia overwhelmed by fear, depression and stress.

“Before, I was confused,” she says. “Now, I’m settled and focused. Here, the students try to help one another by sharing similar experiences.” Many take classes for half the day and work the other half. They strive to take control of their lives and to be self-sufficient.

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