Old Traditions, New Possibilities
Slovenia’s cultural heritage is steeped in craftsmanship—skills that once sustained generations and bound communities together with the ties of shared tradition. Today, Salesian missionaries in Veržej are resurrecting what’s been lost to modernization and the passage of time—by training students to produce, market and sell ancestral handicrafts.
What’s more, these same students are boosting their country’s economy through participatory tourism built on the foundations of their work. And they’re creating a new legacy by inspiring young children to take an interest in their artistic roots as well. All of this is happening at Center DUO, part of the Salesian-run Marianum Institute Veržej.
Nearly 100 years ago, what was then known as the Salesian Center first opened its doors on the bank of the Mura River in eastern Slovenia. While 1991’s Ten-Year War of Independence transformed the river into a border between Slovenia and Croatia, the Center’s original mission—to provide professional training opportunities for youth living on both sides of it—endures. Today, the Marianum Institute has evolved into a respected leader of contemporary education in the region.
Center DUO is the latest, and perhaps most innovative, addition to the Institute. Its programs integrate basic education with skills training in traditional arts including pottery, metallurgy, blacksmithing, weaving, carving and more. Workshops specifically marketed to travelers entice them to stay at the Institute’s hostel, Mavrica Pension, while learning the basics of a chosen craft during their holiday. Students and visitors mingle, and it is in those interactions that the seeds for sustainable tourism bloom. Visitors develop a deep appreciation for the students’ devotion to their work, culture and history. And when they enroll in paid classes, and purchase items from the gift shop, they help preserve tradition and support the dignity of the students’ work.
Center DUO also offers special programming for school groups, where younger children can learn about the history and backgrounds of Slovenian crafters. In partnership with the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development, the new “Promotion of Nature and Cultural Tourism” project brings together children and skilled artisans through hands-on learning experiences. This encourages creativity among participants—while educating them about professional opportunities in the crafts industry, and how to develop the knowledge and skills to make a living from it.
“Both Marianum Institute Veržej and Center DUO serve as wonderful examples of how our Salesian missionaries around the world adapt their educational and training programs to meet local needs while respecting culture and tradition,” observes Father Gus Baek, director of Salesian Missions. “If Don Bosco were with us today, no doubt he would be proud.”
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