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GUATEMALA: Children Find Hope at Salesian-run Summer Youth Program in San Benito

(MissionNewswire) Salesian missionaries operate a summer youth program in the municipality of San Benito in the El Petén region of northern Guatemala. The program offers classes in Spanish and English, mathematics, computers, arts and crafts, music and dance as well as provides organized games for participants. Operated out of a Salesian youth center in San Benito, youth in the program are able to get away from difficult home situations or playing on the streets to engage in productive activities in a family atmosphere that fosters peace and stability.

Father Giampiero De Nardi, a Salesian missionary in San Benito, noted remarkable progress made by a girl from a home for children during her participation in the summer program. Having previously lived with a violent father, she hadn’t wanted to have anything to do with the program. Eventually, she became interested and engaged in the program and found her situation improving. This year, Fr. De Nardi noticed she was actively engaging with the other children and enjoying all the activities.

“Today I took her picture and showed it to her letting her know how good it turned out. Her eyes lit up and she hugged me – something she had never done before. She had never hugged anybody. She had not learned the meaning of a hug,” says Fr. De Nardi.

In addition to the summer youth program, Salesian missionaries in the region offer educational programs and social development services. They have also started several new projects including the construction of a new youth center and distribution of ecological filters for water purification.

Due to complications securing land, construction of the new youth center in San Benito faced many delays. Now that the land has been secured, construction is underway and once completed, the youth center will provide poor and at-risk youth additional educational and social supports and a meeting space to build relationships with peers and engage in safe after-school activities. Tutoring and life skills training as well as recreational activities and sports will also be available.

Additional Salesian-run programs in the El Petén region continue efforts to prevent HIV/ AIDS and provide treatment for those who have the disease. The area has the third worst incidence rate for contraction of HIV in Guatemala. Despite the fact that the project that financed this work has ended, Salesian missionaries continue to do prevention work and offer medical care and other social services for those infected with the virus. Missionaries continue to seek additional funding and are working with the Office for the Prevention of AIDS of the Episcopal Conference of Guatemala which is operating many of the existing prevention programs for women in the country.

Rural poverty hasn’t changed much in Guatemala during the last 20 years, according to the World Bank. Close to 75 percent of the population is estimated to live below the poverty line and almost 58 percent live below the extreme poverty line which the World Bank defines as struggling to afford even a basic basket of food. For the country’s indigenous population the poverty rates jump even higher with almost 90 percent facing crippling poverty and few resources.

Salesian missionaries working and living in the country have been providing for the basic needs of Guatemala’s youth while helping to break the cycle of poverty in their lives. They work extensively with poor youth and their families at youth centers, orphanages, parishes and primary and secondary schools as well as technical schools, vocational training workshops and two universities. Additional social and educational programs help provide for youth living on the streets and those living in poor indigenous communities.



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