ANGOLA: Volunteer teaches street children, gains perspective
Salesian missionary volunteer spends a year teaching street children
(MissionNewswire) Jorge Fernandes, born in Portugal, is passionate about facing new challenges and adventures. He studied computer engineering and project management. After three years working in the Czech Republic as a software developer, he decided to go to Luanda, Angola, for one year as a Salesian missionary volunteer.
Being a Salesian missionary volunteer meant facing a lot of unknowns for Fernandes, but it was something that he enjoyed. He explained, “This experience allowed me to live a completely different sort of life. I didn’t know where I was going or what I was going to do. I wanted to understand better the purpose of my existence in this world. Before I went, I told myself that I would do ‘whatever it takes.’”
In Luanda, Salesian missionaries provide education, shelter for homeless children and at-risk girls, and support for youth through social development programs. Salesian missionaries began their work with street children in Angola during the 1990s when groups of children fleeing the war flowed into the capital. Today, long after the war has ended, children are still fleeing their homes for a variety of reasons. Many run away from home because of parent neglect, some as a result of abuse, and others because they are thought to be sorcerers or witches who bring misfortune to their families.
“I lived in one of the most dangerous slums in Angola,” explained Fernandes. “I tasted the difficulties, needs and joys of people. I went to a school to teach street children. This made me see life from a completely different perspective.”
Today, after his year with the Salesians, Fernandes is a teacher back in his hometown in Portugal. He credits his year in Angola in helping him to be a better teacher. Fernandes added, “I understand now that each of my students has a life story that deserves to have its space; that school is not just a place to learn things, but to learn to be. This new post-mission perspective makes me as open to those entrusted to me today in my work in Portugal as I had to be to those with whom I was in Angola as a missionary.”
Salesian missionaries in Angola have also been rebuilding infrastructure that was damaged during the civil war 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.
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Salesian Missions – Angola
UNICEF – Angola