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August 7, 2017 3:20 pm

Former Homeless Israeli Woman Featured as ‘CNN Hero’ for Dedicating Life to Helping At-Risk Teens

avatar by Shiryn Ghermezian

Mariuma Ben Yosef. Photo: Screenshot.

An Israeli woman was recognized as a “CNN Hero” last week for opening a center that provides temporary housing and long-term support for at-risk teens in Israel.

“To be homeless at a young age is very lonely,” said Mariuma Ben Yosef, who has helped more than 46,000 young people over the last 32 years through her organization, the Shanti House. Ben Yosef, a survivor of sexual abuse, was homeless herself and without a family at the age of 14. She slept on benches and ate from garbage cans with other children who also had no home.

“At the age of 20 I opened my home to serve dinner to children, teenagers and people who didn’t have any place to eat,” she told CNN. “Before I knew it, I set a place for all these children to sleep in my own home. That was more than 30 years ago. Now we have two homes.”

Ben Yosef said her goal is to make every child “feel at home, so secure and so happy” at the Shanti House. She added, “These are my children, these are my life. We are there for them 24/7. I didn’t have a family. Neither did these kids. So that created a cosmic family…I want these children to see there is always light in the dark; [that] we can conquer it.”

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One of the youths helped through Ben Yosef’s organization became homeless at the age of 16 and told CNN, “Life in the streets was very hard. When I got to the Shanti House I was taught that I can achieve anything. I always wanted to finish school and they made that dream come true. The Shanti House is not just a roof over my head, it’s my family.”

CNN first reported on Ben Yosef’s efforts in April. The network started honoring individuals as “CNN Heroes” in 2007 as a way to recognize those are changing the world. Nominees for the CNN Hero of the Year award close on Sept. 4 and the winner will receive a money prize to continue their work.

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