ETHIOPIA: Salesian Lay Volunteers Educate, Provide Hope to Poor Youth and Their Families
(MissionNewsire) Salesian missionaries in Ethiopia are working to address an extreme drought in the country and continuing their education and social development programs helping to aid poor youth and their families. Joanna Piotrowska, a Salesian volunteer from Poland, has been working with the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians in Dilla, a town in southern Ethiopia. The Salesian-run organization provides education, shelter and basic needs for families in the surrounding area.
Piotrowska never thought that she would do mission work. She had never been moved by the stories from Africa of children suffering from famine and drought but that changed when she started her volunteer work in 2015 and saw firsthand the work of Salesian missionaries and the volunteers who assist them.
“Everything changed when I experienced missionary work for myself,” says Piotrowska. “I started working in the oratory. I was in charge of the children, taking care of them. I do not say just that these children radically changed my heart, but they managed to enlarge my small, narrow selfish heart.”
Ethiopia is experiencing the worst drought the country has seen in more than 50 years. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) recently announced that agricultural assistance for the upcoming rainy season in Ethiopia is essential to help the drought-affected people as one of the strongest El Niño events on record continues to have devastating effects on the lives and livelihoods of farmers and herders. The agency 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.
Salesian missionaries and volunteers with the International Volunteers for Development (VIS) are utilizing the deep wells built by VIS volunteers in recent years to distribute water to schools, hospitals and first aid clinics, centers for street children, women’s refuges and diocesan centers. The goal during this emergency phase is to support the 12,000 residents of the Somali, Tigray and Oromia regions and those living in the South.
Salesian missionaries’ primary focus in the country is on the education of poor youth. They accomplish this through the operation of six primary schools, three secondary schools and six vocational training centers for older youth. 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.
“Education is always our primary focus,” says Father Mark Hyde, executive director of Salesian Missions, the U.S. development arm of the Salesians of Don Bosco. “But we know youth in Ethiopia are dealing with much more than just having access to education. Salesian programs are tailored to meet the needs of the youth in the communities they serve. Homeless and malnourished youth are simply not able to focus effectively on their studies while they struggle to meet their basic needs. Our services provide food and shelter so youth are able to focus on the education provided.”
UNICEF – Ethiopia