Living conditions in East Timor are among the worst in the world. More than one million people struggle with extreme poverty, malnutrition and poor health -- conditions directly related to a brutal and lengthy civil war that claimed an estimated 183,000 lives and left survivors struggling to meet even their most basic needs. Now that the violence has subsided, Salesian missionaries are focused on providing new opportunities and new hope for the country’s most vulnerable victims: orphaned children who lost both parents in the war.
At the Don Bosco Orphanage in the city of Lospalos, more than 100 parentless boys have found a welcoming home, nutritious meals, decent clothing and the chance to receive an education. Here, children in grades three to nine are able to attend school, where they acquire new knowledge in a healthy environment designed to prepare them for success in mainstream high schools and beyond. Students also learn important life skills such as responsibility, self-discipline and organization, which will help them with their studies and prepare them for future employment.
“Youth need a secure and stable environment where all of their needs are met, so they can more easily focus on their education,” says Father Mark Hyde, director of Salesian Missions. “The Don Bosco Orphanage succeeds in this endeavor, which, in turn, allows the children to succeed in school.”
In fact, in 2014, more than 20 boys were able to leave the orphanage to pursue a high school education in schools around East Timor.
“Successfully completing their early and high school education is a prerequisite for more advanced professional and technical training -- training that will help youth find and retain long-term employment,and allow them to break the cycle of poverty,” explains Fr. Mark.
For example, some of these 20 students may ultimately choose to attend the Salesian-run agricultural school, where they would learn the theory and practice of farming, raising livestock and how to operate machinery (among other topics). As a result, they will not only be able to support themselves with a decent income -- but also will be able to apply their skills and experience in ways that support the health and well-being of the community as a whole.
While education is an important aspect of life at the orphanage, the Salesian missionaries who run it also understand the holistic needs of children traumatized by conflict and loss. “These children have literally lost everything during the fighting,” says Fr. Anacleto Guterres Pires, rector of the orphanage. “The love we give them is just as important as the housing, hygiene and nutrition. Here, they find a new family made up of other kids like themselves.”
The future indeed looks bright for these little ones who once had little hope.
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