ETHIOPIA: Seven Salesian Students Among Deceased from Koshe Landfill Landslide
(MissionNewswire) Salesian missionaries living and working with poor youth and their families in the capital city of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia are reporting that seven students from the Salesian-run Bosco Center at Mekanissa, a suburb of the city, were killed in the Koshe landfill landslide that killed 115 on Saturday, March 11. A ceremony in memory of the victims was held at the Salesian campus on Friday, March 17.
During the ceremony, the entire educational community of more than 2,000 students was neatly placed in rows in absolute silence, carrying candles and bouquets of flowers to mark a final farewell to their friends. Of the seven victims who attended the Don Bosco Centre, two were children helped by a food program, one student was attending primary school, two were in middle school and two in high school. In addition, one of the staff at the Salesian Center lost his entire family in the tragedy, including his parents.
The Koshe landfill is the largest in the country and has been home for hundreds of people who swarmed around it looking for materials to be recycled. It was closed last year by city authorities, who had asked the local population to move to the new landfill outside Addis Ababa, but the opposition of the residents who live near the new site forced the authorities to go back on their decision. The collapse of the mountain of garbage destroyed 49 makeshift homes inside the landfill site. People are still digging through the piles searching for loved ones.
“Our entire Salesian community is deeply saddened by the deaths of our students in Ethiopia,” says Father Mark Hyde, executive director of Salesian Missions, the U.S. development arm of the Salesians of Don Bosco. “Many of our students live in horrible conditions of poverty, which is what our programs aim to address through education and basic services. This is a tragic loss for their families and our community.”
For the last 18 years, the Don Bosco Center at Mekanissa has been serving poor and marginalized youth and their families in the areas of Koshe and Kore, and is working to expand the program and facilities at the center. Salesian missionaries have a long history of providing educational and supportive services to poor youth in Ethiopia. Missionaries operate 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 supportive 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 Fr. Hyde. “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.”
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.
UNICEF – Ethiopia