, 15 April, 2020 / 2:24 AM
On the occasion of the International Day for Street Children marked Sunday, April 12, Salesian Missions, the U.S. development arm of the Religious Institute of the Salesians of Don Bosco (SDB), joined other humanitarian and international organizations in reviewing initiatives toward street children around the globe, including Africa.
In Africa, Salesian Missions facilitates the offering of “safe spaces” for street children to have access to education and various social services that give them hope in life and for a future, an official stated in a message shared with ACI Africa referencing the April 12 annual global event marked under the theme, “Safe Spaces for Street Children.”
“Salesian programs aim to help children live safely while getting the emotional support they need and the education that will help them live independently. It’s a second chance for these children to have hope for a better life,” Salesian Missions director, Fr. Gus Baek has been quoted as saying.
He has added, “Youth who are able to access programs that help them come in off the streets where they face poverty and are at risk for exploitation have a chance at a better life.”
In the East African nation of Ethiopia, the Salesian Missions supports activities at the Don Bosco Center in Mekanissa, in the outskirts of the capital, Addis Ababa. The Center provides some 400 poor youth education, nutrition and health services.
“Most of the youth, aged 2-15, are street children who have no place else to live or anyone to take care of them,” the Salesians have reported on their website.
In their efforts to fight malnutrition and undernourishment, Salesian Missions facilitates the provision of daily lunch to all the 400 children while close to 40 children, mainly orphans, also have dinner at the center.
“For the past two years to guarantee everyone a meal, Salesian missionaries have not purchased meat, which in Ethiopia has prohibitive costs,” the missionaries have revealed and explained, “This allows missionaries to buy the food they require for their annual needs while keeping costs down.”
Named after the Italian founder of the 161-year-old Religious Institute, Don Bosco, the Center in Ethiopia also provides educational assistance to youth and children in form of school fees, school uniform, transport and school materials such as textbooks, notebooks, and pens.
In the West African nation of Sierra Leone, the Salesians-run Don Bosco Fambul in Freetown is “one of the country’s leading child-welfare organizations” and has been at the forefront of efforts to help rehabilitate street children and reunite them with their families, Salesian Missions has reported.
Under the directorship of Salesian Fr. Jorge Mario Crisafulli, the 120 staff including social workers often head out to the streets, slums and marketplaces “to engage with vulnerable youth” and encourage them to join Don Bosco Fambul’s street children rehabilitation program.
“Many of the youth who are contacted during this time fill out the required questionnaire and those most at risk are admitted into the program. Salesian missionaries seek out youth who have few other options and are most in need,” the Salesians at the Freetown-based program have explained.
The beneficiaries include orphans, victims of physical, emotional and sexual abuse, and those who have spent longer on the street or who are sick and weak.
After evaluation, participants are assigned to appropriate educational levels, and are given thorough medical exams, necessary treatment and housing. Participants also engage in listening sessions and counseling, group discussions, prayer, talks, sports and recreation, all of which are a part of the rehabilitation process.
The Salesians in Sierra Leone credit the success of the program to “its holistic approach which focuses on meeting basic needs (food, clothing, a safe place to sleep) in addition to personalized medical, psychological, pedagogical, social and spiritual care.”
Rehabilitation, the Salesians have explained, is a gradual process that includes formal classes, daily games, sports, music, singing, drama, dancing, counseling and prayer. The parents and extended families of participants are contacted several times by social workers before final reunification.
On reunification day, “an agreement is signed between parents and Don Bosco Fambul to secure a safe environment for the children to continue along a path of personal growth, including ensuring they will have the food, clothing, shelter and education they need.”
Social workers continue to visit the children and their families until they finish secondary school.
Meanwhile, in the West African nations of Senegal, Gambia and Guinnea Bissau, the Salesians of Don Bosco (SDB) are putting in place initiatives aimed at curbing the migration of African youths from their home countries to Europe in search for a better life, a move that exposes them to crime and exploitation.
In these countries, SDB-run Stop Human Trafficking Campaign is set to offer new activities aimed at improving the living standards of the youth including education opportunities and self-employment skills.
The initiatives are expected to be implemented under a three-nation project dubbed, “Investing in the future: protection, formation and employment for returning migrants, potential migrants and unaccompanied minor migrants in Senegal, Gambia and Guinea Bissau.”
“The goal is to improve the living conditions of youth in these countries to reduce the need and risk of migration, which often leads to exploitation and human trafficking,” the Salesians have explained on their website.
According to the missionaries, “These are countries affected by food insecurity, high exposure to risks associated with climate change, drought and floods, and alarming poverty rates that have generated significant flows of internal migration as well as a significant loss of workforce.”
With the project, the missionaries hope to contribute to the reduction of irregular migration from the three countries, which constitute the main migratory corridors leading to Mali, Mauritania and from there to the routes of human traffickers through North Africa up to Spain and Italy.
The project activities are expected to include access to education through scholarships and work grants, to prepare the youths “for employment to meet current labor market needs, ” as well as kits that will enable participating youths to “start micro-enterprises in strategic sectors.”
These activities are expected to run for 15 months under the facilitation of Salesian Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO), International Volunteer for Development (VIS) and the Salesian Mission Office, Don Bosco Missions of Turin, Italy, among other partners.
The project will also work to strengthen the existing formal and informal psycho-social care that young migrants receive when they return back to their home countries to help them reintegrate into their communities.
The three-nation project is also expected to “raise awareness among youth about the risks of migration. This will be done through a series of radio campaigns and cultural events such as theatrical performances, film screenings and debates locally as well as in Italy,” the Salesians have indicated.
SDB launched the Stop Human Trafficking Campaign in Italy in October 2015 to raise awareness on dangers of youth migration, with a special focus on African youth leaving the continent in search for “greener pastures” in Europe.
According to the missionaries, previous campaign initiatives have succeeded in deterring young people from leaving countries where people are most at risk of human trafficking by “providing analysis and research on the real reasons for migration, informing potential youth migrants about the risks of the journey and the real chances of success, along with giving individual guidance to those who want to leave.”
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