DR CONGO: Salesian missionaries at Bakanja Ville work to help youth living on the streets access shelter and education
(MissionNewswire) Salesian missionaries have prioritized working with youth living on the streets in the city of Lubumbashi in the southeastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Lubumbashi and its surrounding areas have a population close to 8.2 million with most living in poverty. While the city has both agricultural and mineral resource wealth, it faces numerous economic and social challenges.
More than 60 percent of the population is less than 20 years old. A large percentage of children and young adults have dropped out of school because they are unable to pay for tuition, uniforms and school supplies. This leaves many young adults unemployed and living on the streets, often with only market stalls and cardboard boxes for shelter.
Many youth, even those as young as 7 years old, have grown accustomed to living on the streets. Some left home because they were kicked out, others ran away from violence and still others left seeking a better life. Salesian missionaries have noted that these street children build small autonomous communities. They have their freedom but often have to beg or steal to survive. Many of these children come from other regions and when they return to their homes, bring back what they learned on the streets in Lubumbashi, encouraging new and similar behavior by others.
Salesian missionaries encourage youth to seek the support of caring adults who can help them turn their lives around and connect them with appropriate shelter and education. In Lubumbashi, missionaries operate Bakanja Ville which is part of the local Salesian Bakanja Center for homeless children. Bakanja Ville marks the first stop in the process of welcoming children into the Salesian program, acting as a drop-in center and reception center for homeless youth who are looking to escape the challenges of living on the streets.
The doors of Bakanja Ville are always open. Youth can access the program to take a shower, sleep, eat, wash their clothes and engage in activities. A personal file is opened for each young person who enters. Then, Salesian missionaries begin a search for family to see if reintegration is possible with the help of social workers. If not, youth are tracked into other Salesian programs where they can access education and have their basic needs met. Salesian missionaries also go out into the street twice a month to help connect with street children in their own environment to tell them about the program and offer them a safe place to stay.
“Children who are living on the streets experience discrimination and exclusion every day,” says Father Mark Hyde, director of Salesian Missions, the U.S. development arm of the Salesians of Don Bosco. “Children who are able to access programs that help them come in off the streets—where they face poverty and are at-risk for exploitation—have a chance at a better life. Salesian programs aim to help children live safely while getting the emotional support they need and the education that will help them live independently.”
Despite its vast material wealth, the Democratic Republic of Congo has long been a very poor nation. Half of the country’s population lives below the poverty line living on less than $1 a day, especially those in rural communities. Because of ongoing strife and violence within the country, more than 8.5 million people are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance, a figure that’s expected to increase to 13.1 million in 2018. More than 4.1 million Congolese are now displaced with 620,000 seeking refuge in neighboring countries. More than 7.5 million people do not have enough food to eat.
Salesian missionaries have been working in the Democratic Republic of Congo for more than 100 years ensuring that the most vulnerable children are not forgotten. Salesian primary and secondary schools and programs lay the foundation for early learning while Salesian trade, vocational and agricultural programs offer many youth the opportunity for a stable and productive future.
ANS Photo (usage permissions and guidelines must be requested from ANS)
UNICEF – DR Congo