COLOMBIA: Graduate of Don Bosco City returns to give motivational talk to students
(MissionNewswire) Salesian graduate Pablo Andrés Velez has a happy family life and is an entrepreneur who runs a chemical products firm that employs 12 people, thanks to the skills and support he received from Don Bosco City in Medellin. Velez, once a former street child, was one of the young boys known as “Gamines,” who at traffic lights would pick cars with lone drivers and threaten them with a rudimentary knife or broken bottle and steal rings, watches and wallets.
After many years on the streets, Velez found out about a program known locally as “Patio del Gamín” operating at Don Bosco City. The program is specifically targeted toward street children. Don Bosco City 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.
Velez recently addressed youth taking vocational training courses for work and human development at Don Bosco City. He talked about how anyone can overcome their challenges and live out their dreams with study, persistence and a strong decision to overcome adversity. Velez noted to the young students how he was just like them at one point but decided to rebel against poverty and climb to his success.
Velez and youth like him without the support of their families are particularly vulnerable to violence, disease, malnutrition and even death. 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.
Through the programs at Don Bosco City, Salesian missionaries offer a multi-pronged approach designed to address the broad social issues that contribute to the poverty and exploitation these youth face, along with training them in the skills necessary to break the cycle of violence and poverty. Currently, there are 900 youth between the ages of 8 and 12 who are living and receiving education at the program.
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 access to education for both boys and girls lays the foundation for a better future for homeless and abandoned youth,” says Father Mark Hyde, executive director of Salesian Missions, the U.S. development arm of the Salesians of Don Bosco. “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.”
Close to 33 percent of Colombians live in poverty, according to the World Bank. One in five children in the country has 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.
World Bank – Colombia