CENTRAL AMERICA: Salesian Missionaries Assist Youth Fleeing Poverty, Violence by Focusing on Prevention
(MissionNewswire) Thousands of unaccompanied children from Central America have been apprehended at the United States southern border in the last year, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Many have left their homes in Central America trying to escape poverty and violence in search of a better life in the U.S. A recent report from DHS has shown children fleeing to the U.S from three primary countries – Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. The report further noted that the reasons driving the migration are different for each country, attributing it to local conditions.
As reported by the Pew Research Center, the DHS report details, “For example, many Guatemalan children come from rural areas, indicating they are probably seeking economic opportunities in the U.S. Salvadoran and Honduran children, on the other hand, come from extremely violent regions where they probably perceive the risk of traveling alone to the U.S. preferable to remaining at home.”
Poverty is also a primary factor as Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador are among the poorest nations in Latin America with Honduras having 30 percent, Guatemala, 26 percent and El Salvador, 17 percent of people living in poverty on less than $2 a day, according to the World Bank.
To meet the needs of youth who have fled their Central American homes alone to make their way to Mexico, Salesian missionaries already working in border towns in Mexico such as Tijuana, Mexicali, Nogales, Ciudad Juárez, Ciudad Acuña and Nuevo Laredo (among others), are responding with emergency shelter, food and other assistance. The journey these young people take from their Central American communities into these Mexican towns is fraught with danger. Many youth have died or have become seriously injured along the trip and others, faced with little food and water along the way, have fallen prey to theft, sex traffickers and other violence.
Once youth reach the border towns, Salesians there provide the essential first step of meeting their basic needs and offering them a safe place to stay. After settling into Salesian shelters, youth can access other Salesian services such as structured recreation and social activities that provide a way for them to bond with their peers and develop additional interests and skills.
“We reach out to them to provide a home, a school, a parish and a place where youth can meet and share as friends,” says Cardinal Oscar Andres Rodriguez, S.D.B., Archbishop of Tegucigalpa, Honduras. “Our goal is to address their essential needs.”
For decades, Salesian missionaries have been working throughout Central America on behalf of impoverished youth to tackle the root problems that have caused so many of them to flee. Much of this work focuses on improving economic opportunity through education and workforce development, teaching youth the skills necessary to find and retain long-term employment and become contributing members of their communities.
In San Salvador, El Salvador, the Don Bosco Worker Technical Institute offers free education and job training to marginalized youth at risk of joining gangs. As an alternative to criminal activity, more than 400 students pursue training in electricity, mechanics, carpentry, welding and tailoring.
“We cannot change the culture of violence and drugs — the same culture that so many youth migrants are fleeing — with an iron fist,” says Father Jose Moratalla, S.D.B., director of the institute. “Instead, we must use education to produce a new generation of entrepreneurs who can respond positively to the challenges and needs of their country.”
In Guatemala, Salesian missionaries are leading a broad and intensive educational effort that is training hundreds of teachers. In rural mountain villages throughout the country, 835 local students are enrolled in a three-year teacher training course. Upon receiving their certification, the new teachers will serve as many as 600 villages.
“Since this program was initiated, the number of schools in the Alta Verapaz region has doubled,” says Father Tony DeGroot, S.D.B., who founded the initiative. “Now, children who were previously destined to be trapped by a lifetime of illiteracy can see the path to a productive future.”
In Honduras, Salesian missionaries have been working for more than 100 years operating schools, youth centers and medical clinics to help support and educate impoverished youth and their families. In a country where one in four residents struggles with chronic malnutrition, food assistance plays a critical role in as many Salesian-run programs as possible.
“While the recent surge of unaccompanied minors traveling to the U.S. has drawn the nation’s attention to the daily horrors these children face — rampant gang-related violence, brutal murders and devastating poverty — the reality is that these conditions have existed in Central America for a very long time,” says Father Mark Hyde, executive director of Salesian Missions, the U.S. development arm of the Salesians of Don Bosco. “Any resolution to this complex situation demands a multi-dimensional response, one that upholds our moral obligation to the children who have already arrived, and one that works to effect systemic, sustainable change on behalf of those who remain in their home countries.”
Pew Research Center – DHS: Violence, poverty, is driving children to flee Central America to U.S.
Salesian Missions – Hope for Central American Child Migrant Crisis