COLOMBIA: Don Bosco City Providing Hope to More Than 83,000 Orphaned Youth
(MissionNewswire) According to UNICEF, more than 150 million children worldwide are considered orphaned – living without one or both of their biological parents. Orphaned youth living in poverty have most often 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 work to earn income for the remaining family. Other youth live in shelters or on the streets.
Neglect, discrimination and malnutrition affect orphans more often than their non-orphaned peers. Research shows that these youth are more likely to live in conditions of poverty, be forced into child labor, recruited as child soldiers and subjected to exploitation and violence. Orphaned youth are also less likely to be enrolled in school.
Close to 33 percent of Colombians live in poverty, according to the World Bank. One in five children in the country have no access to education and 800,000 children reside in refugee camps. The crisis of street children is at epidemic proportions and thousands of at-risk youth have been recruited as child soldiers.
In the capital city of Medellin, violent drug wars routinely tear families apart. Guerilla groups aggressively recruit and often kidnap young boys and girls, some as young as 8 years old, to fight in the county’s brutal civil war.
“Without the support of their families, orphaned youth are particularly vulnerable to violence, disease, malnutrition and even death,” says Father Mark Hyde, executive director of Salesian Missions, the development arm of the Salesians of Don Bosco. “Many youth find themselves living on the streets with no one to protect them from the dangers of exploitation and violence.”
Salesian missionaries working in Colombia are making a big impact on the lives of orphaned youth and their efforts have been internationally recognized.
The Salesian-run Don Bosco City in Medellin is one of the oldest and largest programs for street children in Latin America. Since its start in 1965, the program has rescued more than 83,000 boys and girls. Through the program, Salesian missionaries offer a multi-pronged approach designed to address the broad social issues that contribute to the poverty and exploitation these youth face while training them in the skills necessary to break the cycle of violence and poverty.
Salesian missionaries and lay volunteers have a presence on the streets to reach at-risk youth and encourage them to visit Don Bosco City. Once youth visit the program, the rehabilitation process begins by meeting the young person’s most immediate needs such as food, clothing and shelter. If they wish to stay at Don Bosco City instead of returning to the streets, they are provided with housing and a remedial education in addition to being taught life skills and how to live with others. After youth are acclimated into the program and have caught up academically, they can access job skills training or attend local secondary schools.
“We know that equal access to education for both boys and girls lays the foundation for a better future for homeless and abandoned youth,” adds Fr. Hyde. “In Colombia especially, where almost 20 percent of school-age children do not attend school, it is crucial that we offer this opportunity to as many youth as we can.”
Don Bosco City is just one of many Salesian-run programs serving abandoned youth throughout Colombia. In Bogota, the Children of the Street Program serves approximately 9,000 girls and boys each year and in Santiago de Cali, a special vocational training and youth center works to rehabilitate and educate former child soldiers.
Salesian Missions – Giving Hope to Children in Crisis
World Bank – Colombia