MEXICO: Salesian missionaries operate the Brigade of Joy project to bring safe activities to parks in Ciudad Juárez
(MissionNewswire) In 2012, Salesian missionaries brought joy back to some of the poorest and most dangerous neighborhoods in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. A decade ago, Ciudad Juárez experienced such a wave of violence that at night there was a curfew. No one walked down the street, and the parks had ceased to be meeting places for the neighborhood youth.
Instead, the parks became market squares and places of criminal organizations and gangs. The extortion of merchants made everyone fear for their lives. At any time, someone might settle accounts with a weapon or sow even more fear with the murder of innocent people.
Salesian missionaries aimed to change that with a project called Brigade of Joy, which offered outdoor games and activities. The project also received Mexico state aid to enable Salesian missionaries to send mobile teams to 20 areas of the city.
The Salesian Brigade of Joy staff and volunteers have a van, t-shirts, flags and drums. They arrive in a park at sunset and play music and songs that attract the attention of children and encourage them to participate in fun choreography and games. Slowly and gradually more and more youth participated.
The events bring together about a hundred children in one park. They enjoy two hours of music and games, followed by a lesson applicable to everyday life and a snack for the participants. Youth are also invited to attend the nearest Salesian oratory or participate in the next visit to their area.
In recent years, the Brigade of Joy volunteers make twice a week visits to minors at one of the two juvenile prisons of Ciudad Juárez. The prison is for boys between the ages of 14 and 18 who have committed serious crimes including violence or kidnapping. Salesian missionaries and volunteers provide games and education on life skills so that when they leave prison, they can start a new life away from the gangs and even resume their studies.
“The Brigade of Joy project is another example of the great work that Salesian missionaries are doing in Mexico to help youth who are at risk of gang activity and violence,” says Father Mark Hyde, director of Salesian Missions, the U.S. development arm of the Salesians of Don Bosco. “Salesian missionaries working in Ciudad Juárez also operate three oratories, located each in different parts of the city. More than 5,000 people visit the oratories every week to access the programs tailored for people of all ages.”
According to UNICEF, there are 52 million people living in poverty in Mexico, approximately 45 percent of the country’s population. For children, the rate rises to just over 53 percent with more than 20 million youth estimated to be living in poverty and 5 million of those in extreme poverty.
Salesian missionaries 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 essential to deter youth from life on the streets where they are susceptible to drugs and gang violence.
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Salesian Missions – Mexico
UNICEF – Mexico