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ETHIOPIA: Salesian missionaries launch a new education and nutrition program for poor families living on the outskirts of Dilla

(MissionNewswire) Salesian missionaries have been working in Dilla, a town of nearly 90,000 people located in southern Ethiopia, since 1982. In January 2018, they launched an elementary school which currently serves 554 students between the ages of 5 and 12, many of whom come from families who live in extreme poverty on the outskirts of Dilla. Without the Salesian school, these students would not be able to receive an education.

The economy in Dilla is mainly based on the cultivation of coffee. A recent growth in population has led to a subdivision of the land. Many families have had to give up their plots of land and move, often to the outskirts of the city. Once off their land, they lose the food autonomy that was guaranteed to them by cultivating their own land.

Salesian missionaries are working to address the problem on two fronts, providing both an education and ensuring that students have the nutrition they need to focus in school and learn. A Salesian missionary working in the region says, “Defeating the scourge of illiteracy is the first step in building a fairer society. But it has also been shown that malnutrition plays a major role in child growth, impairing physical development and learning abilities.”

Through a Salesian project at the elementary school, children attending the school receive a free meal each day, preventing them from trying to learn on an empty stomach. Providing a nutritious meal during the school day also encourages more parents to send their children to school.

Salesian missionaries in Dilla have plans to expand their educational offerings as well as the food program. A Salesian missionary in the area explains, “We want to set up two new classes for 78 boys and girls aged between 7 and 9 years. We also want to guarantee that every child has the possibility of receiving at least one hot meal every day.”

Ethiopia is one of the poorest countries in the world with more than 38 percent of its population living in poverty, according to Feed the Future. Close to 85 percent of the country’s workforce is employed in agriculture but frequent droughts severely affect the agricultural economy leaving more than 12 million people chronically, or at least periodically, food insecure. In addition, more than two-thirds of the population is illiterate.

The country has 4 million orphans which account for nearly 12 percent of all children and according to UNICEF, more than half a million of these were orphaned as a result of the HIV/AIDS crisis that has affected the country. Thousands more children run away each year seeking a better life on the streets.

Salesian missionaries across Ethiopia primarily focus on the education of poor youth. They accomplish this through the operation of primary schools, secondary schools and six vocational training centers. At all these Salesian-run educational facilities, youth are able to gain an education while having access to support services, including family sponsorship and school feeding programs, that provide care for them and their families all with the goal of keeping youth in school as long as possible.



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ANS – Ethiopia – The Salesians’ work in Dilla: nourishing the body, nourishing the mind

UNICEF – Ethiopia