Tracing the Pattern for Brighter Futures
Despite being a country rich in oil, millions of people in the Republic of Congo—nearly half the country’s population—live in abject poverty. And, despite concerted governmental efforts to combat discrimination, girls and young women suffer the additional effects of gender inequality, which effectively prevents them from earning a sustainable living and improving their futures. For these reasons, Salesian missionaries in Brazzaville, the country’s capital and largest city, intend to help this vulnerable population harness their dignity, and potential, through vocational training tailored just for them.
“Throughout Congo-Brazzaville, gender-based discrimination exposes girls to horrific—yet accepted—violence and exploitation,” says Father Mark Hyde, director of Salesian Missions. “As a result, they too often become mothers before they become adults, with no social support to ensure their health, teach them essential skills, or help improve their circumstances. It’s a heartbreaking cycle that we are committed to breaking.”
Salesian missionaries in the region are no strangers to this challenging issue—nor have they lacked for creative approaches to solving it. At both Foyer Annuarite and Maison Marguerite in the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo, for example, survivors of sexual abuse can access psychological counseling, life-skills training, self-esteem coaching, parenting classes, recreational opportunities and more. They also receive food and medical assistance for themselves and their babies and, when they are ready, can pursue vocational training in one of several programs of their choice.
At Cité Don Bosco in Congo-Brazzaville, missionaries have leveraged their colleagues’ successes toward a brand new dressmaking program. It was designed specifically for impoverished young women who have aged out of more traditional educational institutions, yet are eager to learn how to trace the pattern for a brighter future.
Offered through the Don Bosco Vocational Training Center in Congo-Brazzaville, the program will initially train 35 young women, many of them single mothers, in a trade that meets market demand. Students will learn sewing techniques and will graduate with the specialized entrepreneurial skills they need to earn an income that can sustain themselves and their children.
“We know from experience that young women who are able to access opportunities like these have a much better chance at achieving financial independence, and making better choices that not only affect them, but their families and communities as well,” explains Fr. Mark. “In Congo-Brazzaville specifically, nurturing the confidence and capacity of this traditionally marginalized population can truly turn things around for the better.”
In addition to dressmaking, the Don Bosco Vocational Training Center offers courses in mechanics, welding, carpentry, construction, farming and raising livestock, electrical wiring and air conditioning to approximately 600 students—the vast majority of whom are boys. Over time, with the addition of more programs like dressmaking, missionaries hope to grow the percentage of female students so that more girls and young women can be empowered to guide their own futures.
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