BOLIVIA: Salesian programs meet the basic needs of at-risk youth and provide access to education to prepare them for future employment
(MissionNewswire) Every year, Santa Cruz de la Sierra, commonly known as Santa Cruz, the largest city in Bolivia and the capital of the Santa Cruz department, attracts youth who leave the hard life of the rural highlands in search of a new life. Throughout the Santa Cruz region, several Salesian centers have been developed and expanded to meet the needs of the local population.
The Don Bosco Project in Santa Cruz acts as a hub to help coordinate activities among several local Salesian-run programs including Hogar Don Bosco, Mano Amiga, Patio Don Bosco and Techo Pinardi. The Don Bosco Project provides comprehensive rehabilitation and vocational training programs that bring social inclusion and meaningful employment to its students.
Extending beyond emergency shelter, clothing and nutritious meals, the project brings together psychologists, social workers, healthcare staff and teachers who work together to address the needs of close to 2,000 children who access primary and secondary schooling and vocational education.
There are several ways in which youth connect with the programs provided through the Don Bosco Project. A free overnight shelter brings youth in off the streets and connects them with adults who show genuine concern and offer support. The shelter provides a safe environment, nutritious meals and a support network that can be life changing.
A daytime program is also available for youth who are ready to escape their current situations and explore new opportunities. Here, Salesian staff offer tutoring to help youth catch up on basic studies and return to school as well as information on specific trades. In addition, there are opportunities for participation in sports and other constructive group activities.
“The Don Bosco Project has had more than 25 years of success working with at-risk and poor youth in Santa Cruz,” says Father Mark Hyde, director of Salesian Missions, the U.S. development arm of the Salesians of Don Bosco. “Salesian missionaries help to meet basic needs like food, clothing and shelter and then work to connect youth with the education they require to have a successful future.”
In Montero, just 40 km outside of Santa Cruz, Salesian missionaries operate La Muyurina Agricultural School. The school offers more than just agricultural training as it is part of a larger program that also offers traditional secondary education and vocational training in addition to feeding programs for area children.
Many of the children attending the school come from an agricultural background but many of their families have never received formal agricultural education and training. The academic preparation provided at La Muyurina Agricultural School enables youth to implement farming methods that are more efficient which increases crop yields and delivers a food supply more readily accessible to their families and communities.
Bolivia is the poorest country in South America and has the most unequal income distribution on the continent. According to UNICEF, 60 percent of Bolivians live below the poverty line with 40 percent of those living in extreme poverty. The poverty rate is higher in rural areas where the rate increases to 75 percent of the population. It is common for Bolivians to struggle to find adequate nutrition, shelter and other basic necessities.
The geography of Bolivia contributes to the overwhelming poverty of its residents. Large swaths of the country remain undeveloped with a lack of roads and infrastructure in place, negatively impacting the indigenous farming populations who typically live there.
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UNICEF – Bolivia