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MEXICO: Education & Community Inclusion for Youth with Disabilities

(MissionNewswire) Focusing on educational and community inclusion for youth with physical disabilities has been a focus for Salesian missionaries in Mexico as well in other countries like Spain and Cambodia. Missionaries aim to help youth with disabilities access education and workforce development training and feel a sense of community and support among their peers.

In Guadalajara, the capital and largest city of the Mexican state of Jalisco, Salesian missionaries developed the Don Bosco on Wheels project. Started in 2010, this project aims to help youth with disabilities by providing the supportive services they need and helping to ensure that their rights are respected. In addition, the project provides educational opportunities and bridges relationships between youth with disabilities and their peers.

In April, the project held an awareness event called First Encounter that was open to all youth with physical disabilities. The theme for this event was “The wheelchair does not determine who I am.” Workshops and educational programs centered around spiritual and emotional development with a focus on empowerment helping youth overcome barriers to education, building relationships and positive self-esteem. The goal was to help youth feel less physically and emotionally isolated, which often occurs as a result of their disability.

UNICEF notes in its State of the World Children 2013: Children with Disabilities report that globally, close to 61 percent of boys finish school but for boys with disabilities that number drops to 51 percent. For girls, 53 percent finish school but among those living with a disability, only 42 percent finish their education.

The UNICEF report also notes that studies across countries show a strong link between poverty and disability, which in turn is linked to gender, health and employment issues. More than 46 percent of Mexico’s population lives in poverty, according to UNICEF. Close to 53 million people lack access to education, healthcare, transportation and even the most basic necessities such as food and shelter. The poverty rate for youth in the country is higher at more than 53 percent and accounts for twenty million children and adolescents, five million of which live in extreme poverty.

Salesians in Mexico primarily direct their efforts toward the country’s at-risk youth, including girls and young mothers. Creating safe havens and improving educational opportunities are considered essential to deter youth from life on the streets where they are susceptible to drugs and gang violence. The UNICEF report suggests that inclusion in mainstream schools and educational settings is usually most appropriate for children with disabilities and when teachers and personnel are trained to consider disability-related issues, they look upon inclusion of children with disabilities more positively.

“Youth living in poverty are among the least likely to have access to educational programs that provide the skills necessary to lead stable productive lives,” says Father Mark Hyde, executive director of Salesian Missions, the U.S. development arm of the Salesians of Don Bosco. “Children living in poverty with a disability are even less likely to attend school when compared to their peers. Salesian missionaries in Mexico are working to ensure that every child, no matter their situation, has access to education.”

Salesian missionaries in Spain are also focused on helping those with physical disabilities. At the Manuel Lora Tamayo Salesian School in the city Jerez de la Frontera in the southwestern part of the country, students hold an annual competition for innovation in science and technology, and this year the 28th Don Bosco National Award was given to the designers of an innovative wheelchair, which is operated by voice commands.

In addition, in January 2015, the Don Bosco Technical School Kep located in southern Cambodia, was awarded a grant from the Office of American Schools and Hospitals Abroad at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Don Bosco Kep plans to use the funds to transform the school buildings into a fully accessible facility granting greater access and ease of movement to students with physical disabilities.


PHOTO: (Stock photo) Getty Images / iStock © Meinzahn


ANS – Mexico – “The wheelchair does not determine who I am”

UNICEF – State of the World Children 2013: Children with Disabilities

UNICEF – Mexico

Salesian Missions – Mexico