Uruguay has managed to decrease its poverty rate by almost half since 2007 when the World Bank estimated that 25 percent of the population was living in poverty. Today, the poverty rate is close to 10 percent with the majority of poor residents concentrated in rural towns and villages.
Most rural citizens in the country do not have the financial resources or education and training necessary to find and maintain stable employment. Running a profitable business venture or maintaining a small farm with access to the national and international markets is increasingly competitive and remains largely out of reach, especially in households run by women alone. The majority of rural poor are those most often engaged in non-agricultural activities.
Salesians have been working with youth in Uruguay for many years, providing educational and social development opportunities to help them break the cycle of poverty and lead productive lives.
Father Rubén Avellaneda, director of Don Bosco Vocational School of the Tacurú Movement, and his fellow Salesian missionaries opened a new oratory called Tacurú House. The programs offered there will complement those provided at the Salesian school, where hundreds of students currently pursue three-year programs in carpentry, electricity, culinary arts, hairdressing and more. Youth do not have to be enrolled at the school to participate in Tacurú House programs. Community members have been supportive of this expansion and excited about what the programs will mean for youth.
Don Bosco Vocational School of the Tacurú Movement educates hundreds of students who are currently pursuing three-year programs in carpentry, electricity, culinary arts, hairdressing and more.
In addition, Don Bosco Workshop, a secondary and vocational education center located in Montevideo, Uruguay’s capital city, has been advancing innovation with its automotive mechanics for electric vehicles courses. The educational center offers both secondary school courses as well as more advanced vocational skills training.
The vocational training courses also include a hands-on project, which ensures that youth gain some real-world experience in addition to their classroom learning. This project-based learning starts with a problem that needs research, alternatives sought, design and engineering, planning, and estimates. It is finally worked out in practice.
Don Bosco Workshop has also been engaged with the Electrical Challenge Association, in which about 20 technical schools from all over the country participate. The association provides two kits for the construction of electric vehicles. Youth must form groups of eight to a maximum of 12 students to try to put their lessons into practice by creating a vehicle, which will then be presented in a competition. For this, the students have to raise funds and finance the rest of the construction.
Salesians have been working with youth in Uruguay for many years, providing educational and social development opportunities to help youth break the cycle of poverty and lead productive lives. In addition to educating youth, Salesians in Uruguay focus on crime prevention by working to keep youth off the streets and engaged in productive activities. These activities focus on education and skill development to give youth better coping skills so they can be more connected to their communities and deterred from criminal activity.
More than 1,700 youth are engaged in educational activities in 32 Salesian-run youth centers and programs across Uruguay. Additional Salesian programs like Don Bosco Social Work, Santa Monica and Bosco Center work with more than 2,500 youth providing for their basic needs and working to prevent at-risk youth from falling into criminal activity.
The Salesian-run Miguel Magone Project is focused on working with youth who have already committed crimes and are engaged in Uruguay’s criminal justice system in the capital city of Salto in northwestern Uruguay. The project ensures that youth are not abused by the criminal justice system and that programs are in place to provide them with counseling and an education to give them a better start once released from juvenile detention or prison.
Since 2006, Salesian Father Martin Ponce De León has been a parish priest at the Saint Pius X parish in the Jardines de Don Bosco district of Mercedes, located in the department of Soriano in Uruguay. Since 2010, Fr. Ponce De León has been operating an initiative known as “Shared Table” which serves people with scarce resources who find themselves in situations of social vulnerability. Through the initiative, Fr. Ponce De León, with the help of volunteers, offers food and shelter to those who are alone, experiencing challenges in life or are living on the streets.
In honor of his years of dedication to the community, the Departmental Administration of Soriano nominated Fr. Ponce de León for the National Award for Citizen Excellence. Father Ponce de León accepted the award at a celebratory event held on Sept. 12, 2018.