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COLOMBIA: 30 former child soldiers rebuild trust in others

Don Bosco Vocational Training Center teaches skills for employment for 30 former child soldiers


(MissionNewswire) Salesian missionaries are giving hope for a better life to former child soldiers at the Don Bosco Vocational Training Center (Don Bosco Center) in Cali, Colombia. The country’s guerrilla warfare has caused more than 300,000 deaths and fueled the growth of powerful drug cartels. The Don Bosco Center provides a chance at rehabilitation for youth who have been ripped from their families at a young age and forced to shoot, throw bombs, or become servants of officers and sexually abused.

Upon arrival at the Don Bosco Center, youth are given a uniform and tools that correspond to the profession they have chosen to learn. More importantly, they are given a chance to reclaim their personal identity and begin to rebuild their self-esteem and trust in others.

Don Bosco Center has a team of professionals who help youth establish a training plan. Youth can take coursework to become electricians, industrial mechanics, automobile repair technicians, cooks, tailors, beauticians, welders, computer operators, accountants, librarians or commercial secretaries. Workshops serve as the cornerstone of development. Youth learn safety regulations, handle machines and products, and take life skills training to help personally and professionally.

Currently, five Salesians support 30 youth in the program. For security reasons, youth live at the center. Their names have not been deleted from the lists held by the guerrilla leaders, who aim to send them back into service or seek revenge for leaving. In the center, youth learn to re-adapt to normal living—sharing a meal with friends, having free time and understanding the rules of peaceful coexistence. During the COVID-19 pandemic, these youth stepped up and put their newfound skills to use creating masks for those in the city.

“All youth deserve a second chance in life, especially when they are introduced and forced into violence at such a young age,” said Father Gus Baek, director of Salesian Missions, the U.S. development arm of the Salesians of Don Bosco. “Through the Don Bosco Center, they are able to connect with their peers, spend time with trusted adults and learn the skills for later employment.”

The work of Salesian missionaries in Colombia is internationally recognized. Just over 34 percent of Colombians are living below the poverty line. Although Colombia is among the world’s emerging economies, more than three out of 10 Colombians still live in poor conditions. Colombia is also the world’s seventh most inequitable country.

One in five children in the country has no access to education. Many orphaned youth live in poverty and have lost their parents to natural disasters, the HIV/AIDS epidemic and other diseases, war, or domestic issues. Some children remain living with a single parent, struggling to survive, and are often pulled out of school to earn income for the remaining family. Other youth live in shelters or on the streets.

By providing education, workforce development services and social programs across Colombia, Salesian Missions helps to give poor youth hope for a better life.



ANS Photo (usage permissions and guidelines must be requested from ANS)

ANS – Colombia – Cali: Former child soldiers wear Don Bosco’s “uniform”

Salesian Missions – Colombia

World Bank – Colombia

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