BETHLEHEM: Salesian Missionaries Provide Diverse Programs and Assistance Including Arts Center and Bakery
(MissionNewswire) Bethlehem, a Palestinian city located in the central West Bank just south of Jerusalem, has a population close to 25,000 people and an economy that is primarily tourist-driven. According to UNICEF, poverty in Palestinian territories including the West Bank, Gaza and Bethlehem varies district to district. Along the Gaza strip, poverty rates have risen as high as 60 percent with residents relying on food assistance from the United Nations. Over half of the population of Palestine is under the age of 18 and children in the region grow up amid frequent outbreaks of street violence sparked by ongoing political turmoil.
Since 1891, Salesian missionaries have been living and working in Bethlehem, initially establishing an orphanage for boys living in poverty and later expanding programs to meet growing local needs. Today, Salesian missionaries provide a range of educational and social activities to support the local community which includes both Christian and Muslim residents. In addition to the orphanage, Salesians now offer a technical school, a professional training center, a youth center, an art center and a bakery.
The Salesian Technical School offers three-year technical and professional degrees in subjects including mechanics, electricity, electronics, mechatronics and industrial electronics. After graduates successfully complete a program, they are provided assistance finding meaningful employment.
The Salesian Professional Training Center offers 12 intensive courses each lasting one year. The center’s goal is to meet the training needs of a large number of youth who for various reasons have left school prematurely. For young professionals who need to update their specialization, the center offers continuing education classes. Courses include carpentry, auto mechanics, mechatronics, electricity, industrial electronics and ceramics.
“Faculty and staff at the professional and technical schools are open and sensitive to the variety of religions represented in the area and encourage professional training for even the most disadvantaged populations,” says Father Mark Hyde, executive director of Salesian Missions, the U.S. development arm of the Salesians of Don Bosco. “Education has proven to be an effective means to break the cycle of poverty while giving the most vulnerable youth a sense of personal dignity and self-worth.”
The Salesian Artistic Center of Bethlehem is the only school in Palestine that offers formal training in the traditional handicrafts of olive wood, mother of pearl and ceramics. Students are urged to invent new and creative crafts and iconography to be produced with traditional materials and instruments. The art center works to create job opportunities for young craftsmen. To help art center graduates enter the job market, Salesian missionaries help with the donation of tools and machinery and the setting up of small workshops and microcredit facilities. For many students, this support has allowed them to overcome traditional obstacles faced when setting up a small business.
The Salesian Bakery is a historical institution in Bethlehem. The purpose of it being threefold; it produces food for the children in the orphanage, teaches baking as a profession and provides food assistance to those most in need through the free distribution of bread to the poorest families. The bakery employs six people and produces close to 3,000 loaves of bread every day.
“Starting as an orphanage for young boys, the Salesian program has grown substantially to meet the growing needs and demands of its local community,” adds Fr. Hyde. “Because Salesian missionaries live within the communities they serve, they are able to create programs to best meet the needs of the populations they are serving.”
UNICEF – Bethlehem Poverty