Author: Salesian Missions

Publication Date: June 03, 2020

Hands-on Solutions to a Challenging Issue

Their hands once clenched weapons. Today, they extend hope. Guided by Father Jesús Bolaño at the Don Bosco Vocational Training Center in Cali, Colombia, these former child soldiers are now making face masks to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Initially, these young men and women arrived at Don Bosco City in Medellín, a program first founded by Salesian missionaries back in 1965 to address the needs of children affected by Colombia’s emerging guerilla warfare. In the five decades since, Don Bosco City has rescued more than 83,000 orphaned and homeless girls and boys from the streets—more than 1,300 of whom had been recruited into combat and subjected to unimaginable exploitation and violence.

For these child soldiers, the rehabilitation process is lengthy, and focuses on three things youth need to learn: how to trust, how to reclaim hope, and how to build healthy relationships with others. Psychologists and teachers collaborate to help participants build resilience, life skills and practical knowledge in order to create better futures for themselves. Many move on from Don Bosco City to the Don Bosco Vocational Training Center to pursue advanced education.

“All youth deserve a second chance in life, especially when they are introduced and forced into violence at such a young age,” said Father Gus Baek, director of Salesian Missions. “The initiative these students are taking to help others in need is a true reflection of their Salesian education and their desire to do good in the world.”

Realizing that many vulnerable residents in the surrounding community lacked access to basic measures to protect against COVID-19, the students approached Fr. Jesús with their idea. With his encouragement and following required health standards, they began sewing masks in the center’s tailoring workshop and are making a true difference for those in need.

“Anyone who wonders whether basic human goodness exists need only look to these former child soldiers,” says Fr. Gus. “They have experienced traumas that no one should have to endure—yet instead of perpetuating a violent past, they are working to make life better for others amid challenging times for all.”

The Don Bosco Vocational Training Center joins hundreds of other Salesian-run programs around the world whose participants are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic in creative ways. While most schools are closed, students and missionaries are mobilizing in their communities to assess needs and find avenues for support. Tailoring students are sewing masks for health care providers, front-line workers and community members. Others are providing information to their communities about the impact of the virus, as well as running prevention campaigns online and in print. And many are sourcing and distributing basic necessities, such as food, sanitary supplies and health kits to those who have been further marginalized by stay-home orders and disruptions to daily life.

Our mission rescues and rehabilitates exploited youth who strive to pay their opportunities forward. What’s your mission?

Learn more about our work in Colombia.

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