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(MissionNewswire) In many of the world’s poorest countries – where hunger and hopelessness is a daily reality for so many children – providing life-saving meals and educational opportunities is hampered by threats of violence. Security is one of the top concerns for non-governmental organizations (NGOs)

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(MissionNewswire) U.S. first lady Michelle Obama’s visit to South Africa has brought the world’s attention to a country where a significant percentage of the population must struggle to survive on less than $1 a day, according to the United Nations. During her week-long goodwill tour

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(MissionNewswire) The recent announcement of Ethiopia’s goal to expand its budget by 22 percent to fight poverty in its quickly growing economy caused critics to charge that growth has not filtered down to the poor, according to news reports from Reuters on June 11.

As politicians work to introduce plans for a better Ethiopia, a unique program is already addressing issues of hunger and education on the streets of Addis Ababa. Through Donato’s Children of the Beggars program founded by the Salesians of Don Bosco in Mekanissa, Ethiopia, parents who survive by begging on the street are able to send their children to school to receive basic education and skills training support services.

According to UNICEF, approximately 72 percent of school-age children in Ethiopia have no access to formal education, and while education is free, many families do not have the economic resources to send their children to school.

“For children whose parents are already begging on the street, education seems like a dream,” says Brother Cesare Bullo, director of the Project Development Office for the Salesians of Don Bosco in Ethiopia.  “Our goal is to reach children who are living in dangerous situations. Our first step is to connect with the parents and guardians to introduce the value of education and how it can lead to a better life for their children – something every parent wants.”

The program staff includes social workers who do outreach to convince parents that an education will provide long-term benefits for the child and family, even though the family may rely on the child to work in the street to provide a portion of the family income.

Once enrolled in the program, children are tutored in basic literacy and math skills so that they may join the formal education system, while adolescents receive jobs training in marketable skills that will help provide for them and their families.

“Our program also includes meals to provide added incentive for the children to study and for parents to continue to encourage their children to attend classes,” says Br. Bullo. “We are committed to keeping the children in the program and by including meals, the program represents a daily benefit to the family.”

Currently, 513 children are enrolled in this program which began in 1998. The Salesians of Don Bosco in Ethiopia have been working with the most vulnerable children and youth since 1975 with a focus on primary and secondary educational services. Salesians also carry out development initiatives providing support in the areas of food security, access to water and illness prevention, health, emergency assistance and agriculture.

PHOTO: Adam Rudin / SALESIAN MISSIONS

(MissionNewswire) Salesian Missions has teamed up with students and professors from Fordham University to carry out a multi-country study to identify “best practices” at Salesian technical vocational training schools around the globe. The Salesians are widely regarded as the largest single provider of technical vocational training

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(MissionNewswire) Human Rights Education is now being introduced in government schools in Andhra Pradesh, India, with the goal of reaching all 300,000 schools in the state by August 2011. Andhra Pradesh is the first state in India to develop a Human Rights Education program for its

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(MissionNewswire) Ivory Coast – New fears grow along with the number of people seeking safe shelter at a Salesian Missions compound in Duékoué. More than 30,000 displaced civilians are now living there after fleeing their homes when the Carrefour district was looted and houses set on fire on March 29. At least 800 people were killed.

“There is no food, people are sleeping on the ground, there is nowhere else to go,” says Salesian Father Vicente Grupeli. “There are no toilets or washing facilities and we have no drinking water.”

They also are without adequate food and water. However, Fr. Grupeli’s greatest fear is a cholera outbreak, which he says is a serious threat if more aid is not received soon.

A Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) team has been providing medical care in the Salesian compound in Duékoué on a daily basis since December. On April 19, MSF reported:

The pressure on the camp is enormous. The number of people sheltering there far surpasses its capacity, and more are continuing to arrive. In surrounding villages, many people are still hoping to make their way to this dreadful safe haven.

“In our dispensary, consultations have recently doubled and in some rooms we have two consultants because of the lack of space,” says Dr. Mohamadou Seyni, who coordinates MSF’s activities in the camp. “After the days of violence, we had a lot of trauma and injuries that we needed to refer to our team in the hospital in town, but now most of our consultations are for malaria. Yesterday, out of 120 children tested, 80 had malaria.”

On April 4, the Salesian Info Agency (ANS) reported that “there are only two Salesians there who have to try to respond to the appeals for help from about 20,000 people.”

Since then, the number of people seeking shelter and assistance at the Salesian compound has grown to at least 30,000. A report from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) confirms the massive numbers and shows completed registrations for more than 27,500 internally displaced persons (IDPs) seeking refuge in and around the Salesian compound in Duékoué.

The numbers are growing and people are afraid to leave and return home.

“It would be naive to believe that they will return home immediately,” says Fr. Gupeli.

The fears are warranted. Catholic News Service (CNS) reported that armed robbers attacked members of the faculty of a Jesuit-run theology school in the Ivorian capital of Abidjan on April 17, as the priests were preparing for dinner. Students have not been at the school for several months due to escalating violence in the area. The robbers entered school grounds by jumping over a security wall, then quickly disarmed the guards on duty and attacked a deacon.

This illustrates why U.N. forces have guarded the Salesian compound ever since the violence erupted, making it one of the only places civilians feel safe (even with the health threats they face due to lack of adequate clean water and sanitation). Like all Salesian workings around the globe, safety is paramount and is evident in the large security walls and guards. But the presence of the U.N. forces doesn’t ease the fears of the people. Rather, it indicates the seriousness of the situation.

“This does not mean that there is more security,” says Fr. Gupeli. “On the contrary, the people are afraid.”

The Salesian Missions compound — created to serve as a vocational training center, a home for children and a youth center — suspended all activities to care for the tens of thousands who have overwhelmed the facility, according to Fr. Grupeli.

ANS reports, “to cope with this tragic situation, the Salesians and the refugees are in urgent need of help from the main humanitarian aid agencies.”

The Salesian mission office in Madrid launched an urgent appeal for food, water, medical supplies and other needs that are in short supply. Information about the campaign can be found at www.misionessalesianas.org.

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(MissionNewswire) Hundreds of bodies have been found after an Ivory Coast massacre that took place around a Salesian compound in the city of Duékoué.

(Editor’s note: See latest article on this situation: Fear, Urgent Needs Grow at Salesian Compound in Duékoué Where 30,000 Seek Shelter)

Large mainstream news organizations such as BBC and CNN refer to the victims as “civilians” while smaller media and Catholic news outlets are reporting that “Catholics” or “Christians” were killed.

According to the statement from the Salesian Info Agency (ANS), “Almost single-handedly the Salesian house is providing refuge and help but the situation seems to be developing into a humanitarian crisis, following attacks (witnessed by the Salesian missionaries) by supporters of Ouattara, who for months has been in contention with Gbagbo for the Presidency of the country.”

According to the statement, frightened civilians began to flee to the Salesian Missions compound for safety as the Carrefour district was looted and houses set on fire. Some witnesses report they were told to go to the compound, but by who is unclear at this time.

Exactly what happened also remains unclear. The Herald Scotland is reporting that more than 800 people were killed in a single day around a Salesian Missions compound in Duékoué (300 miles west of Abidjan towards the Liberian border), calling it a “massacre.” The newspaper reports that “the attackers seem to have largely been soldiers descended from Burkina Faso immigrant Muslim families loyal to Ouattara.”

The Herald Scotland also reported that “events at the Italian Salesian Roman Catholic mission in Duékoué increasingly echo a notorious church massacre during the Rwandan genocide in 1994.”

Business Week reported that local civilians ran to seek shelter at the Salesian compound when the attack began March 29. The more than 800 bodies found so far are thought to be people who did not reach sanctuary with the Salesians in time.

According to the International Committee for the Red Cross, the victims were mainly men who had been shot and left where they fell, either alone or in small groups dotted around the town (which lies at the heart of Ivory Coast’s economically crucial cocoa producing region). They were killed despite 200 United Nations troops reportedly operating what it said were “robust” patrols from its base on the outskirts to protect civilians in and around the compound.

The UN said on Saturday that more than 330 people had been killed – mostly by Ouattara’s forces. However, the Caritas aid agency estimated as many as 1,000 that may have been killed. The UN is reporting that “hundreds” of bodies have been found. What is clear is that it will take days, if not weeks, to determine the death toll as well as the circumstances. Currently, a humanitarian crisis worsens with each passing day.

There are conflicting reports about the number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) seeking shelter.  Reports estimate Somewhere between 10,000 and 30,000 civilians are essentially trapped in the Salesian compound.

Caritas reported what missionaries are saying – that the fighting trapped 30,000 people in a church compound in Duékoué. Many reportedly had gunshot wounds but could not reach hospitals on the other side of the front line.

International Organization for Migration (IOM) spokesman Jean-Philippe Chauzy told a news briefing in Geneva that “some 20,000 Ivorians and West African migrants (in Duékoué) had found refuge in an overcrowded Catholic mission with little or no access to shelter, food, water and health facilities.”

Col. Chaib Rais, the U.N. military spokesman, told The Associated Press that nearly 1,000 peacekeepers at Duékoué “are protecting the Catholic Church with more than 10,000 (IDPs) inside, and we have military camps in the area.”

Most likely, what began as approximately 10,000 refugees has grown in the last few days, as indicated by an official report by the ANS on March 31: “The flow of refugees is extraordinary. The arrival of those from the Carrefour district together with those from other parts of the city means that the courtyard of the parish has quickly become totally occupied.”

In an April 4 statement, ANS reported “at present there are only two Salesians there who have to try to respond to the appeals for help from about 20,000 people. The UNO is helping to provide some provisions for the mission but distribution is not easy and the quantity is not sufficient to satisfy all the needs.”

ANS reports an urgent cry for help, “to cope with this tragic situation, the Salesians and the refugees are in urgent need of help from the main humanitarian aid agencies.”

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About SALESIAN MISSIONS in Duékoué and Around the Globe

The “Salesian Saint Teresa of the Child Jesus mission” – as it is known locally – is the only remaining catholic mission in Duékoué and is registered officially as “Salesian Missions Duékoué.”

The Salesians in Duékoué are connected with the Salesian Missions office in New Rochelle, NY, which is working to provide information about the events and situation in Duékoué. The office is responsible for U.S.-based fundraising efforts to support missions around the globe, in addition to managing crisis response when needed (such as it did in Haiti).

The Salesians are made up of 34,000 Priests, Brothers and Sisters serving in the spirit of their founder, Don Bosco, an Italian Catholic priest who devoted his life to fulfilling the needs of orphans and vulnerable children. Their mission is to enable poor and suffering children to live better lives and build brighter futures. The Salesians operate 5,000 schools and technical training centers, 23 colleges, 216 clinics and hospitals, 225 orphanages and shelters, and a wide variety of social and economic development activities – in more than 130 countries spanning all five continents.

No American Lay Missioners are serving in the Ivory Coast.

More information about Salesian Missions (and ways to help) is available at www.SalesianMissions.org.