COLOMBIA: Former child soldiers making face masks for the prevention of COVID-19 infections
(MissionNewswire) At the Don Bosco Vocational Training Center, located in the city of Cali in the Valle del Cauca department, southwest of Bogotá, Colombia, youth liberated from armed conflict wanted to produce masks to prevent COVID-19 infections. Led by Father Jesús Bolaño, youth were provided access to the tailoring workshop to produce the masks, which met health standards.
The masks will be provided to people who do not have the opportunity to obtain masks elsewhere for prevention of the virus. These youth, who once carried weapons in their hands, today are working for the common good of the neediest in their communities.
More than 50 years of armed conflict between Colombia’s many guerrilla movements, including FARC and the National Liberation Army (ELN), as well as paramilitary groups and the Colombian government, has left behind some 8 million victims. Thousands of children have been part of these armed groups, forced to fight and kill at a very young age. These children are also victims, having been robbed of their childhoods, exploited and faced with unimaginable violence.
Don Bosco City has saved more than 1,300 youth from a life of violence. It is estimated that close to 6,000 minors are still utilized as child soldiers with thousands more having reached their 18th birthday after years of combat. The long rehabilitation process focuses on three things youth need to learn—how to trust, to have hope for the future and to build relationships with others. Psychologists and teachers work together with youth, giving them the tools for a better future. Many leave Don Bosco City and go on to advanced education at the Salesian institutes like the Don Bosco Vocational Training Center in Cali.
“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. “The initiative these youth are taking to help others in needs is a true reflection of their Salesian education and their desire to do good in the world.”
The work of Salesian missionaries in Colombia is internationally recognized. Just over 34 percent of Colombians are living below the poverty line. Though 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.
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Salesian Missions – Colombia
World Bank – Colombia