(MissionNewswire) Youth in Benin face overwhelming challenges in combating poverty. According to UNICEF, Benin remains one of the poorest countries in the world with close to 70 percent of its population living in poverty. Almost 20 percent are chronically undernourished and the effects of poverty in rural areas are severe. Child labor and trafficking are also concerns with about half of all children between the ages of five and 14 engaged in some form of labor.
Two Salesian programs in northern Spain, in collaboration with the Provincial Youth Ministry Delegation there, recently held a fundraising campaign to help a Salesian program for street children in the capital city of Porto Novo, Benin. The campaign kicked off last November and while the total collected is still being assessed, more than 9,200 kg of food was received from the town of Azkoitia alone.
“The fundraising campaign was a great success allowing many families to be helped,” says Father Mark Hyde, executive director of Salesian Missions, the U.S. development arm of the Salesians of Don Bosco. “This has all been possible thanks to the cooperation of many individuals, small businesses, supermarkets, food suppliers and local shops.”
Rice, lentils, beans, pasta and other non-perishable food items were collected in Azkoitia at a Salesian institute and at various shops and supermarkets in the city. The community was very generous in its support of the fundraising campaign. On December 26, a shipment of the collected food and other donated items including school supplies, bicycles and t-shirts made its way from Azkoitia to Pamplona and then onto its final destination in Benin.
“Campaigns like these are a great example of how youth in Salesian programs are able to take what they have learned and pass it forward, supporting families in other communties in a time of need,” adds Fr. Hyde.
There are a variety of Salesian programs in Benin that provide food, clothing, shelter, medical services and education to poor youth in the country. With the goal of caring for youth in supportive environments with access to education and training, Salesians in Benin hope to help break the cycle of poverty and provide hope for the future.
Saint Joseph, a center run by Salesian Sisters in the city of Parakou in northern Benin, operates with financial assistance from UNICEF and offers children refuge from the cycle of poverty and exploitation. There, a team of caretakers ensures children receive nutritious meals and enroll in nearby schools, providing the essential support their families cannot.
At the Vocational Training Center Laura Vicuña in Benin’s largest city, Cotonou, Salesian Sisters are working with young girls, many of whom have been victims of trafficking, providing them shelter and education to learn skills and trades in order to create more stable lives for themselves.
Recently, Salesians at Foyer Don Bosco in Porto Novo launched a new program as part of a European Union collaborative initiative called, Development and Action in the Republic of Benin. A four year initiative culminating in February 2017, the program focuses on the protection of youth at risk in the areas of Littoral, Ouémé and Alibori.
Through this program, Salesians are working to strengthen the collaboration, coordination and teamwork of the state and non-state bodies engaged in the protection of children as well as work to identify children at risk, offer them advice and education and rehabilitate them. The program will also create awareness among local authorities and community leaders in addition to the general population on the protection of children and the need for community programs to safeguard their rights.
“Salesian programs are adaptable to the communities they serve,” says Fr. Hyde. “Education remains at the forefront and our programs strive to keep youth safe and provide for their basic needs so they can focus on gaining an education.”
UNICEF – Poverty in Benin