MEXICO: Salesian Tijuana Project Serves More Than 9,000 People Living in Poverty
(MissionNewswire) Since 1987, the Salesian-run Tijuana Project has been providing services to migrants and poor youth living on the border between Mexico and the United States. The goal of the project is to create an extensive educational network in areas where poor youth are at risk of social exclusion. The project took shape through Salesian oratories and educational centers where children grow up learning to share faith, culture and sports within their communities.
The border between the United States and Mexico spans 1,969 miles and has more than 20 checkpoints along its route. Constant migration is taking place between the two countries with Mexican migrant workers traveling to U.S border towns seeking employment and immigrants from both countries crossing back and forth in addition to cases of undocumented Mexicans being repatriated.
Many border towns are plagued by crime and violence such as the illegal trafficking of drugs, weapons, money and people where the consequences of social and political tensions between the two nations are felt. Salesian missionaries have been working in Mexico and in these border towns for more than 25 years and have recently increased cooperation between the Salesian Province of Mexico-Guadalajara and the Province of USA West. The goal is to work together to address the increase of violence and insecurity in the region and launch proposals for education, social integration, drug prevention and combating the effects of organized crime.
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.
“Young people need environments where they feel safe,” says Father Mark Hyde, executive director of Salesian Missions, the U.S. development arm of the Salesians of Don Bosco. “In many Mexican cities that are branded as violent and chaotic, Salesian work has revealed that there are many youth living there who are full of dreams and talents and who have high hopes for a productive and happy future free from violence.”
Currently, the Tijuana Project is serving more than 9,000 people in six Salesian oratories, a parish and a public dining hall which serves food to close to a thousand homeless and migrant people every day. The entire project is facilitated by six Salesian missionaries with the help of volunteers, local collaborators and benefactors in both Mexico and the United States.
In support of the project, Salesian missionaries in the U.S. have been organizing “missionary weeks” for young volunteers. This year, volunteers from Bellflower, California worked together in the oratories and in the public dining hall where they fed those in need, organized activities for children and accompanied youth in charitable activities.
“Every day there was a chance to give of their best for the good of others. There is not much time to rest in Tijuana, there is so much work to be done,” said Armando Prieto, one of the volunteers taking part in a missionary week.
Innovative Salesian programs in Mexico are preventing poor children from dropping out of school and are providing important opportunities for their future. At-risk children take part in Salesian programs that integrate education, social activities and technical training. Classes are also offered in sports, music, dance and drama and give youth access to safe environments and adults who serve as mentors. The goal is to guide youth back into mainstream education so that they can reach their full potential.
“Salesian missionaries in these communities continue to provide education, safety and the promise of a better future for youth in need,” adds Fr. Hyde. “Our programs in Mexico differ depending upon the needs of each specific community but they all share the goal of providing education while building a sense of dignity and self-worth.”
UNICEF – Mexico