WORLD REFUGEE DAY: Salesian Missions highlights educational and social programs that aid refugees
The 2022 theme is ‘Whoever. Wherever. Whenever. Everyone has the right to seek safety.’
NEW ROCHELLE, NY (June 20, 2022) Salesian Missions, the U.S. development arm of the Salesians of Don Bosco, joins humanitarian organizations and the international community in honoring World Refugee Day, held each year since 2001 on June 20. The day, which is coordinated by the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and other international organizations, honors the plight of millions of refugees and internally displaced people who have been forced to flee their homes.
This year the theme for the day is “Whoever. Wherever. Whenever. Everyone has the right to seek safety” and focuses on how people forced to flee should be treated with dignity. UNHCR has noted that safety is a basic human right and that anyone should be able to seek protection, regardless of who they are or what they believe. No matter where people come from, people who have been forced to flee should be welcomed. Further, whenever people are forced to flee — be it war, violence or persecution — everyone deserves protection.
UNHCR has noted that a record of more than 84 million people had been forcibly displaced by mid-2021, not including the more than 6.5 million Ukrainians who have fled the country since March 2022. Not accounting for Ukraine, 68 percent of those displaced come from the five countries of Syria, Venezuela, Afghanistan, South Sudan and Myanmar. An estimated 35 million of the refugees are children and more than 1 million have been born as refugees.
“Salesian missionaries are assisting close to 400,000 refugees and internally displaced persons whose lives have been affected by war, persecution, famine, and natural disasters such as floods, droughts, and earthquakes,” said Father Gus Baek, director of Salesian Missions. “Salesian programs provide refugees much-needed education and technical skills training, workforce development, health care, and nutrition.”
Fr. Baek added, “For Ukrainian refugees, Salesians have set up special fundraising appeals and shipped material goods, and they are opening their centers and programs to families fleeing. Salesians are also sending supplies to Salesians who have remained in Ukraine and are sheltering those displaced there. Recently, Salesian Missions was able to send medical supplies thanks to our partnership with MedShare.”
To mark World Refugee Day 2022, Salesian Missions is proud to highlight programs around the globe that provide life-changing education and support for refugees and internally displaced people in need.
The Salesian Youth Center, located in České Budějovice, Czech Republic, has been providing services for Ukrainian children who fled when the war erupted. These children and their families are refugees seeking shelter and safety away from their home country. The center employs two Ukrainian women to run programs for Ukrainian children. Masha Shumkova is a teacher and Olena Halushka is a psychologist. Both of them used to work at a children’s center in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine.
Halushka said, “I came to the Czech Republic in the second week of March. Our friend told us about the Salesian Youth Center. We were surprised when we came here because, in our city in Ukraine, we don’t have anything like this. Czech 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. I decided to be a volunteer in this Salesian Youth Center because I like kids. Really, for me it’s so easy to be with kids. They give me energy.”
The Ukrainian children are making connections with the children already in the program. It has been a fairly smooth transition even for Halushka and Shumkova. They seek out activities the children enjoy and bond with them over sports and other activities. It’s not all games though. Many of the activities are educational to ensure children are still learning.
Salesian missionaries continued offering training to assist refugees in gaining the skills needed for employment or self-employment in Egypt through the Sunrise Project for Cairo’s Urban Refugees and Vulnerable Hosts. The project is possible thanks to funding from the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM) through a Salesian technical and vocational training center in Cairo.
The project was first funded through Salesian Missions in 2014. To date, the project has improved the livelihoods and quality of life of more than 3,000 Sub-Saharan African, Yemeni and Syrian refugees and vulnerable Egyptians.
The Sunrise Project is popular among refugees with more than 2,000 applicants trying for the limited number of trainee openings. From the over 700 who were accepted and who completed baseline assessments, more than 500 received technical and vocational training. This led to 426 successful graduates from September 2020 to September 2021. In addition, 65 trainees received a seed grant and one-on-one mentoring, and 16 microentrepreneurs and past alumni received small business development grants.
In addition to financial support, the project also rented tables at three local bazaars so that microentrepreneurs could market their wares and services. These bazaars were particularly helpful for female microentrepreneurs who could display their sewing and handicrafts products or offer hairdressing or henna services. Fifteen beneficiaries participated across the three bazaars. Additionally, the markets enabled beneficiaries to distribute their business cards for networking and potential future customer sales.
Kakuma Refugee Camp was established in 1992 near Kenya’s border with South Sudan. It was a place of refuge for unaccompanied minors fleeing warring factions in what was then southern Sudan. Today, Kakuma Refugee Camp has more than 225,000 refugees from nine countries including South Sudan, Sudan, Somalia, Rwanda and Burundi. It is estimated that more than 50 percent of refugees are youth and children.
Operated by the UNHCR in collaboration with Salesian missionaries and several other humanitarian organizations, Kakuma Refugee Camp offers refugees safety, security, and life-saving services such as housing, health care, clean water and sanitation.
Over the years, Salesian missionaries have developed a number of programs and services for the refugees in the camp. The Salesian Holy Cross Catholic Parish provides spiritual services at 10 out-stations spread across the camp. Salesians also launched the Savio Club in 2014 to provide character development for children in the camp. Today, there are more than 1,000 children involved in club activities.
The Salesian community in Quetta, Pakistan has offered shelter and basic necessities to Afghan refugees thanks to support from the Salesian Missions Office in Madrid. More than 100 refugees, mostly children, received tents, blankets, food and medicines. The Christian community of Quetta felt proud to be able to help people of other religions in a spirit of brotherhood.
This initiative was launched because of extremely cold weather in the region. Salesians are also working to provide ongoing support including education for children and medical and psychological assistance.
In the second week of December, Don Bosco Lahore distributed humanitarian aid to 200 Afghan refugee families in Peshawar. This activity was carried out with the collaboration and coordination of local authorities, the police, and the city administration, which facilitated the distribution. This effort was supported by the Salesian Missions Office in Madrid, Salesian Missions, Don Bosco Switzerland and Salesians in Berlin.
Don Bosco Vocational Center, operating inside Palabek Refugee Resettlement Camp in Uganda, offers education and vocational training to help young refugees prepare for employment. There are courses in mechanics, sewing, construction, agriculture, hairdressing and solar energy. The center provides support for 56,000 refugees and 11,000 Ugandans from the northern region.
Don Bosco Vocational Center has become a place where youth are nurtured, and they can access the skills to achieve self-sustainability. To date, the center has trained more than 600 youth, most of them refugees who have returned to South Sudan to contribute to their country.
The December introduction of upcoming courses brought together many people who are interested in what the center has to offer. Father Ubaldino Andrade, rector of the Salesian community in Palabek, said, “This fact testifies that the young people of the refugee camp are hungry for an education that allows them to offer their families a better quality of life and to contribute to the reconstruction of their country.”
Fr. Andrade added, “At the technical and vocational level, many young refugees want to go out to work, they want to learn a trade, that in most cases, allows them to return to South Sudan.”
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