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On International Women’s Day, Salesians Review Women Empowerment Programs in Africa

Young women receive job starter kits in Sierra Leone after graduating from training in tailoring, tourism, catering and hair care.

On the annual event of the International Women’s Day (IWD) marked March 8, officials of a development entity of the Religious Institute of the Salesians of Don Bosco (SDB) have reviewed their programs that seek to empower girls and women across the globe, including Africa.

“Salesian missionaries living and working in more than 130 countries are focused on achieving gender equality through programs targeted specifically for young women and girls,” officials of Salesian Missions, the U.S. development arm of SDB, say in their March 8 report shared with ACI Africa.

The programs, they further say, “strive to empower young women and girls by providing opportunities for education and training that lead to livable wage employment.”

In the East African nation of Kenya, hundreds of women entrepreneurs in Dagoretti area within the Archdiocese of Nairobi and other low-income areas “are benefiting from the Savings and Internal Lending Communities (SILC) project,” which was initiated three years ago by the female branch of SDB, Daughters of Mary Help of Christians.

The Sisters who are also known as the Salesian Sisters of St. John Bosco started the program after securing funding from Don Bosco Mondo in Germany, a not-for-profit organization (NPO) committed to supporting deprived youth worldwide, the report indicates.

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“The project was launched to help women start businesses of their own to alleviate poverty and improve the well-being of their children,” the officials of Salesian Missions say in the report and add, “Many of the women use the funds earned for their children’s school fees and other necessities.”

According to Sr. Gisele Mashauri who leads the project, the women are divided into several groups each with 15-25 members who save at least US$.5.00 daily from their businesses, money that is given out to members as loans without collateral. 

“Microloans enable the poor to engage in self-employment and income generating activities,” Sr. Mashauri has been quoted as saying in the report.

She adds, “Our main goal is for families to be self-sustained and every child to go to school. We have seen very many poor people living in slums become financially independent and better able to break out of poverty.”

In Sierra Leone, SDB members provide job starter kits to young women who complete their education through Don Bosco Fambul, one of the reportedly leading child-welfare organizations in the West African nation.

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Located in the country’s Archdiocese of Freetown, Don Bosco Fambul “has been on the forefront of efforts to help save young women who have faced abuse and prostitution, as well as to rehabilitate street children and reunite them with their families,” officials of the New York-based SDB agency say.

“The young women, who have come from situations of vulnerability, receive training in tailoring, tourism, catering and hair care through Salesian education,” they add.

The 120 staff at the center “provide crisis intervention and follow-up care for girls and young women who have been victims of sexual assault,” Salesians note in the report and continue, “Girls that access the shelter services are also able to attend educational programs that are a part of the broader Don Bosco Fambul network of programs.”

The educational programs “give young women the skills necessary to find and retain employment,” they further say.

In the March 8 report, the leadership of Salesian Missions also highlights its activities in the Southern African nation of Zambia, where Salesian Sisters are reaching out to vulnerable girls with empowerment programs through the City of Hope shelter in the Archdiocese of Lusaka.

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At the shelter established to meet the needs of youth and their families living in the most severe poverty in Zambia’s capital, Lusaka, Salesian Sisters are empowering young girls with information on sexual and gender-based violence, which the report notes, has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are trying to be close to them through these other means even despite the challenges around country-wide lockdown measures. So far, we are doing well and our message is reaching them,” Sr. Prisca Mulenga Mwila, who serves at City of Hope, has been quoted as saying in the report.

Established in 1995 to meet the needs of youth and their families living in the most severe poverty in Lusaka, majority of the children benefiting from City of Hope programs are those who have suffered abuse, live on the streets or are victims of child trafficking, Salesian Missions officials note in their March 8 report.

“There are still many barriers to education for young women and girls, but Salesian programs work to eliminate those barriers by ensuring education is accessible to all,” the Director of Salesian Missions, Fr. Gus Baek, has been quoted as saying in the report.

Fr. Baek adds, “Women have stepped forward in leadership roles in countries around the globe, helping to shape the response to the pandemic and supporting their families and communities. We celebrate these women and honor the role they have played during this challenging time.”

Marked annually on March 8, IWD celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity.

This year’s Day is being marked under the theme, “Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world.”