ECUADOR: Salesian Youth Volunteering Project has sent 2,206 volunteers to Salesian programs since its inception
(MissionNewswire) The Salesian Family Missionary Youth Volunteering Project in Ecuador was established in 1972 at the Mary Help of Christians in Cuenca with just two young people. It was the starting point for this social initiative that began to grow year after year. Over the course of the initiative, 2,206 have volunteered a year of their lives to help society’s most vulnerable people. In 2017, 56 volunteers were sent to Salesian programs in Ecuador while two others headed to Peru and Paraguay.
Volunteers go through a short training program to prepare for their work in Salesian programs. The training focuses on techniques in helping, learning and discerning. The goal is to provide volunteers with the skills needed to help them integrate their knowledge and skills into the programs and communities in which they will serve.
“Volunteering is a great way for youth to give back to their own communities,” says Father Mark Hyde, executive director of Salesian Missions, the U.S. development arm of the Salesians of Don Bosco. “Most of the volunteers remain in Ecuador helping to improve the lives of youth in Salesian programs. It helps the young volunteers learn new skills they can use later in life in the workforce and allows them to gain some real-life, hands-on experience.”
Salesian programs in Ecuador focus on education, social programs and workforce development, helping youth access basic needs so they can focus on education in Salesian schools. Technical and vocational education is also provided to help youth gain the skills needed to find and retain long-term stable employment. Salesian missionaries also focus on helping the country’s most vulnerable.
The Salesian Foundation, Chicos de la Calle, located in Quito, Ecuador‘s capital city, has rehabilitated more than 2,300 street children through its Acción Guambras project. Street educators who engage in outreach efforts to locate street children focus their efforts within the capital city as well as the surrounding cities of Ambato, San Lorenzo, Esmeraldas and Santo Domingo, all known to have high populations of homeless youth.
With a knowledge of the local communities and the most disadvantaged sections of the cities, street educators aim to develop a sense of trust with the street children they reach out to. The process of first meeting children and then formally bringing them into the program is often slow and arduous. Often, migrant populations that include child workers come into urban city centers during the Christmas and New Year holiday season for only two weeks to a month at a time and then disappear. The street educators must work to build trust with both the young people and their families in order for the program to be successful.
Once trust is established, street educators invite youth to participate in the program, which provides education and social development services while meeting basic needs such as housing, food, clothing and school supplies. Participants are also offered tutoring and assistance reintegrating back into school.
Ecuador is one of the most inequitable societies in the world, according to UNICEF. The richest 20 percent of the population receives almost 50 percent of the national income, while the poorest 20 percent receives only 5 percent. According to the World Food Program, almost 26 percent of all children under age 5 have stunted growth, increasing to 31 percent in rural areas and 47 percent in indigenous communities.
Close to 20 percent of Ecuador’s population are people of indigenous heritage. For poor, rural and indigenous youth, education provides the best opportunity for finding employment, reducing inequities and breaking the cycle of poverty. Salesian missionaries have been providing education and other social programs for disadvantaged youth across Ecuador for more than 125 years.
UNICEF – Ecuador