To be born female in Burundi is to be born an inferior citizen: one likely to suffer a lifetime of poverty and oppression from which it is virtually impossible to escape. Motivated by the conviction that all people deserve a chance for a better life, Salesian missionaries in the rural northern community of Rugako have launched a new program. Its purpose is to empower girls and women to take charge of their lives and their futures.
“Girls and women are often marginalized to such a degree that they struggle to access even the most basic services, such as public transportation,” explains Father Mark Hyde, director of Salesian Missions.
Healthcare is simply out of the question -- a fact that contributes to some of the highest maternal death rates in the world. It also means that 53 percent of children under the age of five experience stunted growth. This is due to poor pre- and post-natal nutrition and care, and the inability of their mothers to effectively manage common childhood conditions.
And then there’s gender-based violence: a practice so widely accepted that complete strangers feel empowered to physically and verbally abuse women and girls at will. Law enforcement often averts its eyes.
“You can imagine the depths of despair,” says Fr. Mark. “Without substantial change, what kind of future can girls and women look forward to?”
Through their newly launched program, “Improving the Opportunities of Women in Rugako,” Salesian missionaries in Burundi are hoping to encourage that change -- one small step at a time. Established in partnership with Don Bosco Solidarity (a Salesian-led philanthropic organization based in Spain) and offered at the Don Bosco Vocational Training Center in Buterere, the program offers vocational training. Courses include culinary arts and hotel management for women eager to develop marketable skills. In tandem with their classroom work, students also participate in supervised apprenticeships to develop their professional skills and confidence. Complementary workshops -- available to the general public -- provide education to the broader community about the importance of gender equality and the benefits of decent employment opportunities for women.
“This program is a crucial first step toward eradicating generational poverty and oppression,” concludes Fr. Mark. “At the Don Bosco Vocational Training Center, Salesian missionaries are helping women overcome significant barriers by providing them the education and necessary skills to find jobs in order to support themselves and their families.”
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