DOMINICAN REPUBLIC: Youth-Centered Services Aid School Attendance and Preparation for the Future
(MissionNewswire) Nearly half of youth under the age of 18 live in poverty in the Dominican Republic, according to UNICEF. Even though the country’s economy has been steadily improving since 1996, the country’s poor still struggle to get enough food to eat and access safe drinking water and adequate housing. Only 30 percent of youth finish primary school and only 18 percent finish secondary school on time. Schools are in poor shape with nearly half having no access to safe drinking water and more than 60 percent lacking adequate bathroom facilities.
Many students do not have the supplies necessary to complete their studies and teachers lack access to ongoing teacher education. As result, many youth lack education and training which would help them compete in the job market. To meet this need, Salesian programs in the Dominican Republic focus on education and vocational training to help youth learn the skills and trades necessary to find stable employment and break the cycle of poverty.
Boys and Girls with Don Bosco, nicknamed “Red Don Bosco”, is a network of educational and social programs operating out of 12 Salesian centers, eight of them located in Santo Domingo, the Dominican Republic’s capital city. Currently, the program is supported by 300 volunteers who assist more than 3,000 poor youth between the ages of 6 and 17. The programs work to aid youth with what they need most, including assistance finishing school or attending workshops to improve their employment skills. Summer activities are also available.
Boys and Girls with Don Bosco began in 1985 as a pilot program to help youth who were working selling newspapers on the streets of Santo Domingo access education and social development services. In more than 30 years of operation, the small pilot program has turned into a vast network of services operating out of several Salesian centers easily accessible by youth and their families. Programs begin by aiding youth and continue with staff reaching out to family members to include them in services while helping them to become a support to the young people in their lives. The program has been so successful due to its youth-centered approach which offers youth a choice in the services they access. Since its inception, more than 30,000 families at risk from conditions of poverty, family breakdown and exploitation have accessed services.
“You’ll find the young people in different parts of the city, at bus stops, in front of shops, opposite the hospital. That’s where they go to polish people’s shoes and sell whatever they can,” says Father Ángel Sánchez, Director of Boys and Girls with Don Bosco. “At first, we just observe them. Certainly there is no sense of emergency or crisis in our work, rather we are in a very promising situation to help when the time is right for youth.”
Through the program’s history more than 20,000 youth have gone back to school, 25,000 participated in summer activities and more than 20,000 have been trained in educational and employment focused workshops. Boys and Girls with Don Bosco continues to expand as the needs of youth change. Fr. Sánchez is currently looking for an increase in the program’s annual budget in order to offer technology courses and hire and train more teachers.
UNICEF – Dominican Republic