“This is misery, not poverty.” So describes the plight of Madagascar’s people - by Bishop Rosario Vella, a Salesian missionary in Ambanja, Madagascar. This island nation of more than 22 million people is one of the poorest in the world - where education is not guaranteed, and illiteracy tops 31 percent. In response, Salesian missionaries are committed to helping the next generation of youth break the chains of poverty.
These Salesian programs are crucial in a country where families are so impoverished that their young children drop out of school to work in grueling, menial jobs … and where newborns regularly die from illnesses that are preventable and curable. In fact, only 15 percent of the Malagasy population has access to basic medical care.
“You can understand the poverty of a family that lives in a house of straw,” says Bishop Vella. “But it is not acceptable that they cannot care for or educate their children for want of money or a nearby hospital.”
In addition to opening medical dispensaries to provide health services to any who need it, Salesian missionaries have focused their efforts on education - establishing primary, middle and high schools across the island country. Since 2007, 41 elementary schools, four middle schools, and three high schools have opened their doors to students who otherwise would not be able to afford an education.
“We are seriously concerned about young people in Madagascar,” asserts Bishop Vella. “It is essential to guarantee them the right to school and education. For [many of them], our schools represent their only hope.”
Because many students - some as young as 11 years old - need to leave their remote villages in order to continue beyond primary school, Salesian missionaries have also set up a support network designed to keep youth safe from kidnapping, exploitation and other dangers. These “villages” provide stable housing with families, teachers and other school personnel - and have succeeded in keeping school attendance high.
At the same time, educational opportunities continue to expand.
Students who successfully complete high school now have the opportunity to attend college in Madagascar. They can then earn degrees in fields specific to the needs of the country - better ensuring job opportunities and stability. In April of this year, Salesians in Ambanja, Madagascar opened a Catholic university, with more than 100 students already enrolled in programs such as law and agriculture. Future program expansions include law, business and economics, ecology, tourism, and others.
“The course in law is necessary because there is no justice in Madagascar,” says Bishop Vella. “The poor are discriminated against, and the rights of the weakest are often trampled upon. Similarly, courses in ecology are important because this is a tourist area with a great need for environmental protection.”
The future of Madagascar’s youth - and their homeland - shines a little brighter today thanks to education and the generosity of friends like you.
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