MYANMAR: Salesian programs provide hope and education for poor youth and their families
(MissionNewswire) Salesian Father Giordano Piccinotti with the Opera Don Bosco Foundation recently made a trip to Myanmar to discover the country’s areas of vulnerability and visit the Salesian programs working to address these issues. One of the programs he visited was the Don Bosco Friend Youth Center, which was opened in 2013 in Mandalay, the second largest city in Myanmar.
Mandalay has a number of street children who live on the margins of society under inhumane conditions. These youth have no access to education, use drugs, feed on scraps of food and only rarely do they find small jobs. Stealing is commonplace. The juvenile prison is in a pitiful condition with a scarcity of food and no medical care. The only educational services offered in the penitentiary are carried out by Salesian missionaries.
Don Bosco Friend Youth Center was created as a safe haven for street youth to avoid the juvenile prison by accessing shelter, proper nutrition and education. The facility, which operates 24 hours a day, is directed by Father Peter Myo Khin along with six paid staff and provides temporary shelter, food, health care and formal and non-formal education.
Close to 30 boys, aged 4 to 18, live at the center permanently while dozens more access services on a drop-in basis. If the boys in the center do not want to attend school, they can pursue a non-formal education at the center. Of the 30 boys currently attending the program, 22 are in formal education while eight have chosen a non-formal education path.
“This is a life-changing program for youth living on the streets in Mandalay,” says Father Mark Hyde, executive director of Salesian Missions, the U.S. development arm of the Salesians of Don Bosco. “There is an outreach program, which is the first step in helping youth and giving them a better life beyond the streets. Once in the program, the youth center is safe place for the boys where they can access the services and support they need and ensure they gain an education.”
Fr. Piccinotti also visited the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians in Hlaing Thar Yar. Here, Salesian nuns offer education, food, water and health care for the children of local families who are poor, despite working hard long hours in camps and large factories. Many are are unable to take care of the children and so the Salesian nuns work to provide what they can for these families.
At the end of his trip, Fr. Piccinotti noted, “Here, every child has a story to tell. Each child has a tear to shed. Each child has a smile to donate. I have decided to leave my heart here to them!”
While Myanmar is the second largest country in Southeast Asia and rich in natural resources, it is one of the least developed countries in the world, ranking 145 out of 188 countries according to the 2017 Human Development Report. More than a quarter of Myanmar’s population still lives in poverty with the poverty rate rising sharply to 70 percent for those living in rural areas. Myanmar also has the lowest life expectancy and the second-highest rate of infant and child mortality in the region. Just one-third of the population has access to the electricity grid, and only about half of school age children complete their primary education.
World Bank – Myanmar