The Salesians of Don Bosco have been operating in Sri Lanka since 1956. In 1963, missionaries set up their first technical institute. Since then, they have established 17 more in locations across the country.
Although civil war in the country ended in 2009, many people are still suffering from its effects. Unemployment among youth in Sri Lanka stems from the decades-long war, combined with deeply entrenched social factors such as class, ethnicity and caste. Thousands of children lost one or both parents in the conflict and the number of households headed by women increased, negatively impacting the poverty rate in the country.
Salesian missionaries focus their efforts on meeting basic needs, in addition to offering educational and social development services for impoverished youth and their families.
Salesian schools, services and programs throughout Sri Lanka are helping to break the cycle of poverty while giving many hope for a more positive and productive future. Primary and secondary school lays the foundation for later vocational and technical education.
The Don Bosco Vocational Training Center equips its students with the skills they need to compete in the labor market by offering courses in hotel management, electrical and mechanical engineering, computers and more. The Center is also serving local employers by providing them a well-trained labor force.
Many of the technical school’s students are school dropouts seeking a second chance. The school is accessible to poor youth, regardless of their religious affiliation, who are looking to dedicate themselves to overcoming the challenging labor conditions in the country.
Salesian missionaries operate Mary Help of Christians House in Negombo, home to 173 girl soldiers. In addition to offering the basics of food, clothing and shelter, the sisters focus on the physical and psychological health of the girls. Their dedication and support has enabled the girls to come a long way in the past few years. Nearly half of them are attending classes between the 6th and 8th grade levels, while several of the older girls are taking professional courses.
Physical wounds heal over time but the emotional and psychological wounds that both male and female child soldiers face can take a lifetime to heal. The emotional support, education and job placement provided by the Salesians play a large role in helping youth come to terms with their circumstances and preparing them for a brighter future.
Girls were used as soldiers in the same way as boys during the country’s civil war, but they also face gender-based violence. Reports of sexual exploitation, human trafficking and forced prostitution were all too common. In addition to the typical traumas of war, girls were subjected to unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases and social stigma making it difficult, if not impossible, to reintegrate back into their communities.
Salesian missionaries worked with child soldiers at a rehabilitation center in Colombo. It was first opened to assist “at-risk” street children and young victims of sexual abuse, but expanded to provide therapy and jobs skills training to child soldiers.
Salesian Missions also had a particular focus on displaced women and children in the region. Women and children were believed to make up more than 80 percent of displaced populations in Sri Lanka. After becoming widows in the war, women were in urgent need of employment and livelihood opportunities. Many youth were forced into becoming soldiers during the conflict, and the Sri Lankan government asked Salesian missionaries to take in nearly 500 rescued child soldiers who had nowhere else to go.
Salesian missionaries responded to the crisis with technical training and education that helped women and youth learn to help themselves and increase the capacity of their families and their communities.
In 2015, Sri Lanka’s southwest monsoon season brought unusually heavy rains even for the season, causing major floods and landslides. The flooding, believed to be the worst flooding in 14 years, brought death and devastation. Many people in the area suffered terrible losses with their homes and personal possessions destroyed. Salesian missionaries helped with the immediate relief and then with the rebuilding of their homes and lives.
To provide the most efficient relief, Salesian missionaries in Sri Lanka set up their own Disaster Mitigation and Relief Unit in the provincial house due to the threat to the country from torrential rain, cyclones, floods, landslides, heat waves and droughts, which have been occurring on a more frequent basis. The Unit allows missionaries to be well equipped for disaster preparedness to effectively mitigate foreseeable and predictable disasters, coordinate relief work and help with post-disaster resettlement, if needed.
Sixty boys are receiving education and shelter, along with having their basic needs met, at Don Bosco Murunkan, located in Mannar, thanks to donor funding received from Salesian Missions. This was particularly helpful in keeping these boys safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of these students are orphans or only have one parent, usually their mother, and are unable to pay their expenses at Don Bosco Murunkan. The funding ensures they are able to continue to receive their education in a safe and supportive environment while being fed nutritious meals to address the under-nourishment many have suffered.
Salesian Missions received funding from the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration to conduct its New Beginnings program for Sri Lankan Refugees in Tamil Nadu, India. Since 1983, ethnic violence in Sri Lanka has forced tens of thousands of Sri Lankan Tamils from their homeland in search of safety and a new life in Tamil Nadu, India. According to UNHCR, there are close to 140,000 Sri Lankan refugees in 65 countries, with almost 70,000 in refugee camps in Tamil Nadu.
Refugees face many challenges as they begin to make a new life in their host countries. Sri Lankan Tamils are unique in that their host population in Tamil Nadu is also ethnically Tamil. While Sri Lankan refugees share a common language and customs with their host community, they still struggle to gain marketable skills and find livable wage employment.
Since 2010, Salesian Missions has been providing its New Beginnings program for young male and female Sri Lankan refugees who have been living in refugee camps in 15 target districts in India. Salesian missionaries are serving refugees by providing vocational training through a network of nine Salesian-run Don Bosco schools spread across southeast India. In addition, women are also benefiting from refugee camp-based small business incubator programs. The New Beginnings program provides market-conscious vocational and technical skills training that results in livable wage employment, allowing trainees to better support themselves and their families. Many refugees enter the program with few, if any, job prospects or with a history of low paid part-time work experience which is typically unskilled and often dangerous and exploitative.
Two shipments of goods are making a major impact on the lives of the most vulnerable youth and their families in communities in Sri Lanka. A shipment of 250 baby strollers made its way to four Salesian-run sites that serve 811 children in need and provide assistance to needy families. The baby strollers — donated by Jeep and delivered through Kids in Distressed Situations, Inc., (K.I.D.S.) — were distributed to Salesian-run sites in Sri Lanka, including child development centers caring for abandoned children with disabilities. The strollers will aid staff in caring for and transporting children with disabilities more effectively.
Dulitha, a 6-year-old boy with cerebral palsy, is one of the children who will benefit greatly. Unable to walk and abandoned as an infant, he relies on his caretakers at the center. Previously, the only option was to carry Dulitha so he could take part in activities. However, with so many children to care for this was nearly impossible.
A donation of clothing and outdoor apparel reached 1,233 children in nine locations. Dinesh, a 12-year-old boy who lives in Bandarawela received a new jacket — the first jacket he has ever owned. Dinesh is from a poor family and has two siblings, a father who works at a nearby farm and a mother who works as a part-time cook.
From Sri Lanka
From Sri Lanka
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