INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY: Salesian Missionaries Inspire Change for Young Women through Education, Workforce Development
(MissionNewswire) For more than 100 years, March 8 has marked International Women’s Day. The day celebrates the economic, political and social achievements of women around the globe while focusing the world’s attention on areas requiring further action. Humanitarian organizations, human rights groups, governments and the United Nations come together around this important issue that affects everyone. Salesian Missions, the U.S. development arm of the Salesians of Don Bosco joins the international community in observance of International Women’s Day.
This year’s annual theme, “Inspiring Change,” focuses on overcoming women’s inequality, encouraging more women to take on leadership roles and pursue careers in the fields of science, engineering and technology, promoting women-owned businesses and supporting financial independence for women.
It is also a day for celebrating the organizations and people who work year round to empower women and girls in an effort to make the world a better place—including nearly 30,000 Salesian missionaries working in more than 130 countries around the globe. Their programs strive to empower young women and girls through educational and social programs. All Salesian-run programs promote gender equality and work to break down barriers young women face, especially in accessing education and obtaining livable wage employment.
“Women and young girls face many barriers and disadvantages to accessing education and achieving financial independence,” says Diana Del Castillo, a program officer at the Salesian Missions Office for International Programs and an expert on gender equality. “Because Salesian missionaries are already living and working directly in many communities they are able to effect change from the inside rather than being viewed as outsiders. They are able to educate community leaders about the importance of gender equality and the benefits of girls’ education for the whole community.”
“There may be many barriers to overcome in providing young girls the same educational and workforce advantages as boys, but there is also huge potential. It is very important for girls to attend school and gain an education. Young girls that are able to are empowered and can lead a life of financial independence, marry at an older age and tend to make better and healthier choices that affect not only their lives but their family and community as well,” adds Del Castillo.
In honor of International Women’s Day, Salesian Missions is sharing information on some of its programs around the globe that empower young women and girls.
Salesians working in Mexico City are directing their efforts toward the country’s at-risk population, including girls and mothers living on the streets. Innovative programs are preventing poor youth from dropping out of school and are providing them important educational and training opportunities.
Through the “Yolia” program, girls and young women are able to spend their days at a Salesian center in the city where they can have meals, receive tutoring, obtain therapy and learn job skills such as jewelry making and hair styling. Some girls choose to live in the residential area where they receive additional education and services while gaining a renewed sense of dignity and self-worth.
Salesians in Senegal have been providing vocational and technical training programs to local youth for many years. The Vocational Training Center of Tambacounda, one of three Salesian programs in the country, recently announced the opening of a center of excellence in information technology and communication. One of the primary goals of the center is to provide young girls access to traditional professional courses. To date, only six out of 137 students are female.
A pioneer program in technical education and vocational training in Tambacounda, the center has trained over 2280 students in automobile mechanics and electrical work, both traditionally non-female dominated fields. Expansion of the program expects to attract more female students, granting women and girls further access to professional training.
Salesians at Don Bosco Fambul in Freetown, Sierra Leone, have been running a Girls Shelter for the past two years. Here, professional social workers and pastoral workers provide crisis intervention and follow-up care for girls and young women who have been the victims of sexual assault. Girls that access services at the shelter are also able to enroll in educational programs that are a part of the broader Don Bosco Fambul network. These educational programs train young women in the skills necessary to find and retain employment.
As part of their rehabilitation at the Girls Shelter, the young women take coursework in hotel management, hairdressing and tailoring. The training helps to empower them to overcome the discrimination they have faced and gain a greater awareness of their rights. It also helps to build character while allowing the young women the freedom to make decisions that affect their lives, improve their health and boost their work prospects. Recently, both the trainers and the students in these programs were able to present their skills and products to the general public at an exhibition in Freetown.
In the Dominican Republic, women striving for a better life can access support services through the “Madres Project” in Santo Domingo. This project addresses the root causes that force children to live on the streets. By teaching mothers skills that enable them to earn a living wage and improve their living conditions, their children become more likely to stay at home and off the streets.
Made possible through a partnership between Salesian Missions and the International Volunteer Movement for Development, the program offers women complete courses in literacy, post-literacy, health care and computer skills as well as includes lessons in human rights as part of each training module. Salesians in Santo Domingo also operate a training program for youth in the poorest areas of the city called “Boys and Girls with Don Bosco.”
In the state of Tamil Nadu, India, the Salesian “New Beginnings” program helps to educate Sri Lankan refugees while giving their families the chance to achieve stability and the opportunity to send their children to school. The program offers technical and vocational courses and skill training as well as job placement support to aid refugees in finding employment.
For women with children who are unable to leave the refugee camp and attend traditional classes, a special program has been developed within the camp. Through it, women receive training in skills such as jewelry-making and sewing and are also provided entrepreneurial workshops. In addition, they are eligible for financial assistance to start up new businesses where they can use their new skills while continuing to take care of their families, such as the business cooperative created with sewing machines and equipment financed through a micro-credit program. Today, there are close to 400 women taking advantage of this program.
ABOUT SALESIAN MISSIONS
Salesian Missions is headquartered in New Rochelle, NY, and is part of the Don Bosco Network—a worldwide federation of Salesian NGOs. The mission of the U.S.-based nonprofit Catholic organization is to raise funds for international programs that serve youth and families in poor communities around the globe. The Salesian missionaries are made up of priests, brothers and sisters, as well as laypeople—all dedicated to caring for poor children throughout the world in more than 130 countries and helping young people become self-sufficient by learning a trade that will help them gain employment. To date, more than 3 million youth have received services funded by Salesian Missions. These services and programs are provided to children regardless of race or religion.