Until recently, 19-year-old Tiron faced a grim future. Having dropped out of school for financial reasons, he held little hope of finding decent work and securing his long-term economic stability. In fact, without meaningful intervention, he risked becoming yet another indirect casualty of Sri Lanka’s civil war.
Although the war ended in 2009, its negative consequences persist -- especially for Sri Lanka’s youth. Unemployment among those between the ages of 20 and 24 hovers at 40 percent -- a number that has barely changed during the last 10 years. And, with youth comprising 23 percent of Sri Lanka’s population, the unbreakable cycle of poverty is far too real.
“Unemployment among youth in Sri Lanka stems from the decades-long war, combined with deeply entrenched social factors such as class, ethnicity and caste,” explains Father Mark Hyde, director of Salesian Missions. “This is why Salesian missionaries focus their efforts on meeting basic needs, in addition to offering educational and social development services for impoverished youth and their families.”
At the Don Bosco Vocational Training Center in Nochchiyagama, for example, students can take courses in hotel management, computer science, electrical and mechanical engineering, and other in-demand disciplines. They graduate equipped with the skills they need to compete in the labor market and -- thanks to the center’s strong connections with local employers -- they emerge confident in their ability to find a job.
In particular, the center serves those, like Tiron, who have dropped out of traditional schools. “We do this in order to help them face the grave unemployment problem in Sri Lanka,” says Father Reginald Fernando, who heads the center. Training programs are available to all impoverished youth dedicated to overcoming economic challenges -- regardless of religious affiliation.
After leaving school, Tiron found his way to the Don Bosco center, where he trained as a welder. Recently, he was among 160 previously marginalized youth who completed their programs and are now ready to secure meaningful work.
“I am so grateful for the training,” he proclaims. “I am in a good position now to help my family financially, and hope to have a better future.”
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