UNIVERSAL CHILDREN’S DAY: Salesian Missions highlights social and educational programs
With more than 5,500 Salesian educational institutions and youth centers, missionaries are educating children in some of the poorest places on the planet.
NEW ROCHELLE, NY (Nov. 20, 2021) Salesian Missions, the U.S. development arm of the Salesians of Don Bosco, joins humanitarian organizations and countries around the globe in recognizing Universal Children’s Day, also known as World Children’s Day. Celebrated each year on Nov. 20, the day was established in 1954 to promote international togetherness and awareness on children’s issues worldwide. To date, 194 countries have signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and are bound by international law to ensure it is implemented.
Through education and social development programming, Salesian missionaries in more than 130 countries around the globe are working to break the cycle of poverty and bring a sense of dignity to all those they serve. Missionaries are also working to ensure that all youth know their rights, are able to fully participate in their communities and have their voices heard.
Whether it’s combating child labor, assisting homeless youth or building schools where children previously had no access to education, Salesian missionaries are making sure those in need have access to programs and services. With more than 5,500 Salesian educational institutions and youth centers, missionaries are educating children in some of the poorest places on the planet.
“Education is always our primary focus but we know youth are dealing with much more than just needing access to education,” said Father Gus Baek, director of Salesian Missions. “Salesian missionaries provide education on human rights which gives vulnerable youth a sense of personal dignity and self-worth. At Salesian schools, young children gain an education, learn about their rights and freedoms, and participate in sports and other activities—all in a safe environment that encourages learning and growth.”
In honor of Universal Children’s Day, Salesian Missions is proud to highlight social and educational programs that benefit children around the globe.
Don Bosco College in Manaus, Brazil, is celebrating its 100-year anniversary this year. Salesian missionaries first arrived in Manaus in 1921 to start a school to educate youth in the Amazon. The goal was to create a school that would rival those already providing quality education in other regions of Brazil. Salesians first set up youth centers and then offered evening classes before launching a boarding school, which would later become the current Salesian school.
Don Bosco College has modern equipment and a large library as well as computer, physics, chemistry and biology laboratories. The structure of the school is complete with a gym suitable for playing various sports, a swimming pool, indoor sports fields, an auditorium that can accommodate 600 people, a ballroom, a judo room and a space for leisure time.
In 2019, Don Bosco College started assessing the need for a local kindergarten and how it could accommodate that within the building’s current structure. The renovation was completed this year and in July, the “Don Bosco Dreams with Us” project was launched to provide education for Brazilian and Venezuelan children ages 6-12.
Don Bosco College currently offers courses ranging from kindergarten to level I and II primary schools and high school, with opportunities for full-time education, catechesis, sports, and cultural courses that serve students and the educational community.
Salesian missionaries in Suva, Fiji, recently went to the villages of Muanikoso and Makoi to check on youth and provide them educational materials. Since the start of the pandemic and the lockdowns that followed, Salesians have been working to maintain relationships with youth in their programs and school. They have connected through calls, emails and social media.
Meetings have been organized on Zoom, but most youth in the villages do not have access to digital devices. In order to ensure these youth aren’t falling behind academically, the Salesian community decided to photocopy lessons and catechism activities, cook sweet doughnuts, and visit youth and their families while maintaining a safe distance.
Families appreciated the conversations and efforts that Salesians made to ensure youth had copies of the materials. The visits also included moments of prayer and the distribution of rosaries and copies of the Salesian Bulletin.
In Suva, thanks to the Australian Salesian Missions Overseas Aid Fund and support from the local community, Salesians constructed a new multipurpose community center. Once pandemic restrictions ease, the new center will provide youth a place where they can learn, engage in safe activities, and connect with peers and supportive adults.
The center includes a multipurpose community space, open areas for learning, a kitchen and dining area, a sporting and recreational facility, and a community garden. The idea is to make the center as self-sustainable and eco-friendly as possible.
Don Bosco Youth Center in Rundu, Namibia, has renovated a children’s playground thanks to donor funding from Salesian Missions. Prior to the renovations, the playground was in a dilapidated state and dangerous, leaving children without a place to play and connect with their peers.
With the donor funding, Salesians were able to buy renovation materials and paint. The children who attend the youth center come very poor families and some of them have been abandoned. Since the launch of the primary school, close to 120 children use the playground each morning before school. On the weekends, 180 youth attending programs at the youth center utilize the playground. To safeguard the playground, Salesians have asked the school to contribute a small amount of money toward the maintenance.
“Youth at the center would like to extend their thanks to donors who gave so generously to help renovate the playground,” said Martha Kalilomba, who attends activities at Don Bosco Youth Center. “The youth center has become more appealing since the renovation and we cannot express enough how much that means to us.”
Don Bosco Youth Center was opened in 2002, and provides shelter and services for homeless youth. The center offers computer classes for 65 students, pre-school for 70 children and school for 104 students who have dropped out of formal education. In addition, more than 80 youth attend the daily oratory activities including sports programming.
Don Bosco Technical and Vocational Training School in Rango, in the city of Butare in southern Rwanda, currently offers courses in construction, carpentry, welding and sewing. Each course spans two years of training, and the majority of students in the program are youth who come from vulnerable situations and have been living in poverty. Youth are 17-25 years old, and some are single mothers looking to improve their lives for their children.
The rate of teenage pregnancies in the country has had exponential growth in recent years and is becoming a major obstacle to social and economic development among the poorest populations. Salesians have launched projects to help educate and promote family involvement while also providing skills training so that young mothers can find employment or start a small business, ensuring that they can live in a dignified manner with their children.
Recently, in collaboration with the Salesian Mission Office in Turin, Italy, Salesian missionaries launched a project to purchase 40 sewing machines to train and empower young mothers so they can acquire the skills to start a small business. Launching a modest tailoring or dressmaking shop or a simple sewing workshop can help provide an income for families.
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