ANGOLA: One single mother oversees Salesian house street children, caring for more than 100 at-risk youth
(MissionNewswire) Salesian missionaries in Angola provide education and social development services for youth, especially those living on the streets in Luanda, the country’s capital city. Berta André, an Angolan woman, has lived all her life in one of the poorest and most dangerous neighborhoods in Luanda. She raised five children as a single mother after her husband, who was an alcoholic, left the family.
When Salesian missionaries started their work looking after street children in Luanda, André knew it was her mission to serve. In the late 1990s, she quit her job and moved her five children into one of the Salesian houses for street children so she could oversee the house and care for those in need. Initially, there were eight street children at the house. A week later there were 12, and a year later, there were 25.
André said, “My older children helped me a lot. They were all brothers and sisters among them. I’d get up in the morning to prepare breakfast, get water for the bathroom, take them to school, take care of them when they were sick, everything was a sacrifice.”
André has been and is still much more than a mother for all of them. She is a symbol for the whole neighborhood because she takes time to visit the sick and be a guide in the community. She has played the role of teacher, nurse, bricklayer and more.
“I already feel some pain, but I want to consume myself in giving myself to others,” added André. “The missionaries told me that the Lord chose me. They helped me to discover that we must give ourselves to others, like Don Bosco. On one occasion I thought about throwing in the towel, but the Lord and Mary Help of Christians have always helped me.”
André knows the life of Mamma Margherita, one of the key figures in the life of Don Bosco. She reflected on her work, “The same things have happened to me, sometimes the boys stole from me, too, but when you work with your heart everything is easier. We have managed to help many children by preparing them to return to their families and to society, restoring their dignity to them. I don’t know how to thank God and Don Bosco for this.”
André’s greatest pride is the more than 100 children who have passed through her house who she has treated as her children. She said, “The children I have had have been exemplary.”
Salesian missionaries create shelters and programs where street children are safe and can receive the care they need, including rehabilitation and reunification with their families when possible.
Salesian missionaries in Angola have been rebuilding infrastructure that was damaged during a civil war in the country that lasted from 1975 to 2002. Much was destroyed during the conflict including schools, medical buildings and churches. Living within the communities in which they work, Salesian missionaries have been perfectly positioned to respond to local needs and lead projects for community betterment.
During the civil war, educational disparities were widespread but recent reforms have paved the way for more youth to have better access to education and social equality. According to UNICEF, more than 36 percent of the population lives in poverty. In addition, more than one in 10 children under the age of 14 has lost one or both parents and 43,000 are separated from their families. As a result, nearly a third of these children are working and child trafficking has become an emerging problem in the country.
With a 67 percent illiteracy rate, the educational opportunities provided by Salesian programs can be truly life-changing. Through these programs, both youth and adults have access to schools and education. Classes range from simple lessons in reading and writing for adults in refugee camps to shelter and education for street children. Students are also able to access life skills training, workforce development opportunities and nutrition programs.
ANS Photo (usage permissions and guidelines must be requested from ANS)
UNICEF – Angola
Salesian Missions – Angola