Empowering Displaced Refugees
At a time when a record 84 million people have been forcibly displaced from their homes, Salesian missionaries are providing life-changing assistance to nearly 400,000 men, women and children affected by war, persecution, famine and other disasters around the world.
One of them is Rimonda. Recently graduated from a Salesian-run technical training course for sub-Saharan and Syrian refugees in Cairo, Egypt, she now has the skills she needs to support herself as a seamstress and entrepreneur in her adoptive country.
“After the course, I started to buy fabrics and make baby clothes,” Rimonda reports. “Then I started to put my products in different clothes shops for sale. This is something that brought me extreme happiness and pride because I can finally support myself by working.”
In partnership with generous donors, Salesian Missions first provided funding for the program—known as The Sunrise Project for Cairo’s Urban Refugees and Vulnerable Hosts—in 2014. In the years since, more than 3,000 graduates like Rimonda are building better lives for themselves and their families.
Through scholarships offered by the program, participants have new opportunities to gain marketable expertise and find employment. In addition to vocational education, they learn valuable life and job readiness skills to help them successfully adjust to their new urban environments. They also receive medical care, eye exams, and any necessary referrals for follow-up treatment and medications. Vouchers to local grocery stores, and for transportation to and from their training courses, help remove educational barriers and ensure that participants’ basic needs are met.
“Comprehensive services like these help refugees adjust to and succeed in their new environments and communities,” says Father Gus Baek, director of Salesian Missions. “Everyone needs to work together to help each other, so unfortunate men, women—and especially the precious children—can access the support they need to realize better futures. I’m proud to count our Salesian missionaries among the leaders in this charge.”
In fact, The Sunrise Project perfectly embodies the theme of this year’s World Refugee Day, celebrated annually on June 20: Whoever. Wherever. Whenever. Everyone has the right to seek safety. It also reflects our missionaries’ long-standing efforts to empower the displaced.
“No matter where they come from, people who have been forced to abandon their homes, and everything they hold dear, should be welcomed with open arms,” Fr. Gus says. “This has always been a guiding principle for our missionaries who foster refugees’ dignity and potential first and foremost.”
Most recently, missionaries in Ukraine and across Europe have devoted considerable resources toward supporting children and families seeking safety and relief from ongoing war. More than 6.5 million people have fled Ukraine since its outbreak—a number not included in the 84 million cited earlier. Yet our missionaries remain undaunted, driven by their resolve to help refugees build self-sufficiency through education and opportunity whenever and wherever they can.
Take Olena, for example. A psychologist previously employed at a children’s center in south eastern Ukraine, Olena escaped to the Czech Republic in March. Shortly thereafter, she found her place at a Salesian-run youth program where she now works. Because this same center serves displaced Ukrainian children, she finds purpose in helping them overcome their traumas and build relationships with their Czech peers.
“I was surprised when I came here because, in our city in Ukraine, we don’t have anything like this … children must be so happy because they have this program, and they may come here for free, get attention, and stay at a comfortable, safe place,” she says.
Judging from the smiles on their faces—the children’s and her own—Olena is right that they experience moments of happiness despite everything they’ve been through.
“This is one measure of success in our programs focused on refugees,” says Fr. Gus. “And we remain indebted to our many compassionate, generous donors who make it all possible.”
Our mission provides life-changing job skills training and support for displaced and desperate people seeking better lives. What’s your mission?