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ETHIOPIA: Salesian Missionaries Provide Educational Programs at Pugnido Refugee Camp

(MissionNewswire) Salesian missionaries working at the Pugnido Refugee Camp, the oldest refugee camp in the Gambella Region of Western Ethiopia, having been working with poor youth and their families providing education and social development services. The camp is home to some 60,000 refugees, the majority of whom are escaping violence and conflict within South Sudan.

Not far from Pugnido is Jikawo, where last April there was a predatory attack by bandits that left 208 people dead and more than 100 children abducted. Thousands of head of cattle, which many residents rely on for their livelihood, were also destroyed. Although many people still live with the tragic consequences of that incursion, the presence of security forces has restored a minimum of stability.

“We hope that the worst is over, the children are being brought back to their families,” says Father George Pontiggia, director of the Salesian program. “It’s a nightmare that happens every year, but this time it was of huge magnitude.”

Since 2006, the Salesian Pugnido mission has grown and developed to better meet the needs of the growing refugee population and those living in the surrounding area. The mission now includes 10 outreach stations and a few chapels inside the refugee camp that provide assistance, education pastoral care, and social development services. The goal is ensure that youth have their most basic needs met so they are able to focus on gaining an education and the skills needed to find and retain stable employment. Youth in the programs also volunteer and help with younger children as well as participate in the Catholic Mass.

“They have incredible energy and transmit joy and love of life,” adds Fr. Pontiggia. “Those who were children 10 years ago have not disappeared. Every day they are here in our oratory and participating in the Mass. They live with us. Even those who go to live elsewhere do not fail to gravitate here when they return to Pugnido.”

Salesian missionaries across Ethiopia are working to ensure that all children have access to education, clean water, health care, shelter and nutrition. They face considerable challenges at Pugnido and in sites across the country. Ethiopia is experiencing the worst drought the country has seen in more than 50 years. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has reported that humanitarian needs in the country have tripled since the beginning of 2015 as the drought has led to successive crop failures and widespread livestock deaths. According to the United Nations, agricultural production in the affected regions has fallen by 50 to 90 percent and the Ethiopian government has declared a state of emergency.

As a result, food insecurity and malnutrition rates are alarming in the country with FAO reporting that some 10.2 million people are now food insecure. One-quarter of all districts in Ethiopia are officially classified as facing a food security and nutrition crisis. In addition, the country’s first rainy season is delayed and, with Ethiopia’s main agricultural season fast approaching, farmers need immediate support to help them produce food between now and September for millions facing hunger.

Ethiopia is also 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.



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