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IVORY COAST: Salesian Missionaries Bring Hope and Education to Those Affected by 2011 Civil War

(MissionNewsire) In March 2011, the Salesian mission of Saint Therese of the Child Jesus in Duékoué, a city in western Ivory Coast, saved the lives of 30,000 people who took refuge on its grounds of just 2.5 hectares during the civil war that broke out during that time. The city had been under siege when the crisis in Ivory Coast escalated into full-scale military conflict between forces loyal to Laurent Gbagbo, the president of Ivory Coast since 2000, and supporters of the internationally recognized president-elect Alassane Ouattara. International organizations have reported numerous instances of human rights violations by both sides, in particular in Duékoué where Ouattara’s forces killed more than 3000.

During the advance of rebel troops on Duékoué, murder, rape, mutilation and acts of humiliation were everyday occurrences. Only the Salesian compound was spared. Salesian Father Carlos Berro noted that the armed forces respected the nature of the parish and church and did not enter to commit acts of barbarity. The documentary filmmaker Raul de la Fuente observed the life of the missionaries in Duékoué and was able to tell the heroic story of some Salesians who changed the lives of thousands of people in the documentary 30,000.

“In Africa it seems the rain will wash it all away,” says de la Fuente. “At first glance people may not realize that there was recent armed conflict here, but when you stop to talk to people you find the dramas and see that it is still very present.”

During the war, Salesian missionaries provided safe shelter, food, and security for those who sought refuge on their grounds. Today, Salesian missionaries continue their work providing shelter, education and social development services to youth and their families in need. Salesian missionaries are also working with the victims of the war to heal the wounds. They listen, help victims seek compensation and work to reach some kind of social reconciliation between opposing groups.  Known for their work with child soldiers around the globe, Salesian missionaries are also providing training for youth, some of whom had been aggressors during the war.

“Salesian missionaries goal now that the conflict has ended and there has been time to reflect and heal, their goal is to bring the community together and provide youth a chance to earn a stable living,” says Father Mark Hyde, executive director of Salesian Missions, the U.S development arm of the Salesians of Don Bosco. “Youth who are able to engage in productive activities, gain an education and eventually employment are able to positivity contribute to their families and communities.”

Those living in the Ivory Coast who are small-scale farmers have little or no access to land and are among the poorest, including youth and women who are particularly vulnerable. Women have limited or no decision-making power over the allocation of land, and they are dependent on men for access to it. Yet gaining access to land is crucial for women because their livelihoods depend largely on the production of food crops. According to the World Bank, 46 percent of those living in the Ivory Coast living in conditions of poverty with more than a quarter of the population living in server poverty on less than $1.25 a day.

The Ivory Coast has one of the highest HIV/AIDS prevalence rates in West Africa. While the government has established a ministry to lead the fight against AIDS, and a wide range of national and international initiatives focus on HIV/AIDS awareness, prevention and testing, the collapse of public health facilities in the north, as a result of years of conflict, has made the situation worse.

Salesian missionaries living and working in cities across the Ivory Coast focus their attention on working with youth and their families in need to provide education, food security, health clinics and workforce development services.



(ANS Photo)

ANS – Ivory Coast – Duékoué, the Salesian refuge that saved 30,000 lives

World Bank – Ivory Coast