ITALY: A young migrant from Gambia supported by Salesian “I care about you” project
(MissionNewswire) Salesian missionaries with the Salesians of Social Welfare, also known as the SCS/CNOS Federation, are making a significant impact on youth in Italy with their “I care about you” project. The project aims to reach out to young migrants and other homeless youth who gravitate to the central train stations of Italian metropolitan areas. Every day these youth are at risk of becoming involved in criminal activities or being sexually exploited.
Salesian missionaries estimate that there are close to 5,000 of these “invisible” children. They have migrated from the world’s poorest countries and have arrived alone or have been abandoned once in Italy. They lack access to education, shelter, showers, bathrooms, food and clothing.
Ousman, aged 19 years, was one of these youth. In March 2017, he traveled to Italy from Gambia aboard a refugee boat. After arriving in Italy, he found himself unable to support himself. As a minor there was little legal work he could do. He slept in the Porta Nuova train station and was an illegal street vendor under the porticoes until he met Salesian missionaries who welcomed him into the local Salesian oratory where he received food, clean clothes and a shower.
From that moment on, Ousman was no longer among the invisible. He became part of the Salesian community and was provided services as part of the “I care about you” project. This Salesian project aims to connect with these youth, earn their trust and try to reintegrate them into society by offering services and support. The project activities, supported by the Intesa San Paolo charitable fund, are taking place in Turin, Naples and Catania in the neighborhoods adjacent to the cities’ train stations.
A network composed of street educators, psychologists and volunteers greet the children and offer support and protection. Once in the program, children are offered shelter, their basic needs are met and they are given the opportunity to take an Italian language course, receive legal assistance, acquire professional skills and find stable employment.
“To foster integration, it is necessary not to keep the various activities separate,” said Father Mauro Mergola, director of the San Luigi oratory in Turin which provides services to 50 minors and foreign-born children and just turned adults. “If the teens having difficulties are always in the usual group, they do not integrate. Here is the beauty of the courtyard as Don Bosco intended it, where everyone can meet in an educational place. We ask the kids to help with the different activities, to get involved. In this way they feel even more part of a community, their home.”
The Salesians of Social Welfare has been working to promote a better quality of life for disadvantaged youth for 24 years. In 2016, close to 9,000 at-risk youth received educational and social development services through Salesian programs throughout Italy under the organization’s direction.
The primary recipients of this support are minors and youth who are in situations of social vulnerability, including those under the care of Italy’s child protection system. Many of these youth are engaged in Salesian programs including family child care homes and community housing, childcare centers for academic support, youth groups and foster parent networks.
Salesian missionaries have been challenged by the number of migrants and other unaccompanied youth looking for shelter, support and work in cities across Italy. For unaccompanied foreign minors, Salesian missionaries launched 58 projects including first- and second-level reception centers, Italian language courses, job placement, legal assistance and more. These add-on services reached 4,068 migrant youth.
Italy, Europe’s third-largest economy, has close to 2 million children living in poverty, according to UNICEF. The poverty rate has risen in the wake of Europe’s economic crisis. Unemployment is at its highest level since the late 1970s with the overall jobless rate at 12.5 percent and youth unemployment as high as 41 percent.
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UNICEF – Italy Poverty