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INDIA: Salesian New Beginnings Program Graduates 840 Sri Lankan Refugees

(MissionNewswire) The Salesian-run New Beginnings program, operating out of the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, recently celebrated 840 Sri Lankan refugees in a graduation ceremony on July 5 at the Don Bosco Secondary School in the city of Thanjavur. The New Beginnings program offers technical and vocational courses and skills training as well as job placement services to aid refugees in finding employment in their new countries.

The graduation ceremony in Thanjavur brought together family members, Salesian staff and dignitaries to celebrate the accomplishments of the Sri Lankan graduates while offering cultural activities facilitated by refugees from local refugee camps. Women currently enrolled in a garment making training program at the school displayed their handmade garments and crafts at the event. During the ceremony, graduates were awarded course completion certificates and given trade-related tools to help prepare them for the workforce.

The New Beginnings program, coordinated by Salesian Missions, the U.S development arm of the Salesians of Don Bosco, is funded by the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration. To date, more than 3,300 refugees have received vocational training scholarships through the program.

Since 1983, ethnic violence in Sri Lanka has forced tens of thousands of Sri Lankan Tamils from their homeland in search of safety and a new life in Tamil Nadu, India. According to UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, there are close to 140,000 Sri Lankan refugees in 65 countries with almost 70,000 in refugee camps in Tamil Nadu.

Refugees face many challenges as they begin to make a new life in their host countries. Sri Lankan Tamils are unique in that their host population in Tamil Nadu is also ethnically Tamil. While Sri Lankan refugees share a common language and customs with their host community, they still struggle to gain marketable skills and find livable wage employment.

Since 2010, Salesian Missions has been offering its New Beginnings program to young male and female Sri Lankan refugees who have been living in refugee camps in 15 target districts in India. The program provides market-conscious vocational and technical skills training that results in livable wage employment while allowing trainees to better support themselves and their families. Many refugees enter the program with few, if any, job prospects or with a history of low paid part-time work experience which is typically unskilled and often dangerous and exploitative.

The training provides New Beginnings’ graduates with at least one market-demand technical skill as well as workplace readiness training to enhance positive attitudes, hygiene, personal presentation and teamwork. Results-oriented job placement assistance helps graduates transition from the classroom to employment in the local labor market. In addition, all trainees receive counseling to help them overcome traumas related to their displacement as well as recreation opportunities that promote non-violent conflict resolution and a healthy inclusive community.

“Young men who once worked as painters or unskilled construction hands for just a dollar each day have gone on to technical positions in established local and regional businesses,” says Neill Holland, program officer at the Salesian Missions Office for International Programs. “Some have leveraged their training to travel beyond local areas toward the Indian state’s technology companies and auto manufacturers in the Chennai industrial hub.”

Serving no less than 40 percent women and young girls, the New Beginnings program promotes gender equality and generates opportunities for women whether they prefer to seek work at a local company or join a women’s company collective that allows them to remain home with young children while still engaging in meaningful employment.

Often women with young children are unable to leave the camps to attend school. In response, Salesian Missions created a program to bring training inside the refugee camps. Women can receive training in skills such as jewelry-making and sewing and are also provided entrepreneurial workshops. The program also helps women create a business cooperative while a micro-credit program helps them buy new equipment such as sewing machines. As a group, the women are able to provide their services and merchandise to local businesses, taking advantage of their new skills while continuing to care for their families.

“Young women and girls face many disadvantages and barriers to accessing education and achieving financial independence despite their huge potential,” says Father Mark Hyde, executive director of Salesian Missions. “It is very important for girls to attend school and gain an education. Girls that are empowered though education are more often able to achieve financial independence, marry at an older age and make better and healthier choices that affect not only themselves, but their families and communities as well.”

Salesian missionaries are also providing the New Beginnings program for refugees in Kenya’s Kakuma Refugee Camp and refugees living in Colombia.



ANS – India – Sri Lankan Refugee Skill Training Graduation Day

UNHCR – Sri Lanka

Salesian Missions Office for International Programs

U.S. Department of State Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration

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