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COLOMBIA: Salesians work to rehabilitate young soldiers

Youth gain education and hope for the future


(MissionNewswire) Salesian missionaries are helping former child soldiers and at-risk youth in Colombia gain an education and have hope for the future. 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. In addition, the country’s guerrilla warfare has caused more than 300,000 deaths and fueled the growth of powerful drug cartels.

Don Bosco City, located in Medellín, has been working with youth for more than 55 years and has saved more than 1,300 from a life of violence. The long rehabilitation process at Don Bosco City 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 including basic education and more advanced skills training that will lead to stable employment.

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. 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.

Another program focused on similar work is the Don Bosco Vocational Training Center (Don Bosco Center) in Cali. The Don Bosco Center provides a chance at rehabilitation for youth who have been ripped from their families at a young age to become soldiers.

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.

“All youth deserve a second chance in life, especially when they are introduced and forced into violence at such a young age,” said Father Timothy Ploch, interim director of Salesian Missions, the U.S. development arm of the Salesians of Don Bosco. “Through the Salesian programs, 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% 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 are working to empower youth and given them a chance at a better life.



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