REPUBLIC OF GUINEA: Salesian Vocational Students Paying It Forward Volunteering as Coaches for Youth
(MissionNewswire) The Republic of Guinea, a French speaking province in West Africa, has more than 60 percent of its people living in poverty and is considered one of the poorest countries of sub-Saharan Africa, according to UNICEF. Although Guinea has rich natural resources, much of the country is undeveloped. More than half of the country’s population is under the age of 18 and many youth are vulnerable to the effects of poverty, living without access to education, healthcare and nutrition and with little hope for the future.
According to UNICEF, although Guinea has abolished school fees, there remain substantial costs for learning materials, keeping education out of reach for many families. In addition, many teachers are poorly trained and unable to provide a quality education. As a result, those children in school often drop out to search for work on the streets with some falling victim to child trafficking and other abuse.
Salesians operate three programs in Guinea to help youth gain an education and learn social and vocational skills. In the city of Kankan, located in central Guinea, Salesians operate a vocational education and training program and a youth center. Students attending the vocational training program can choose courses in carpentry, mechanics and other fields that can lead to livable wage employment after graduation.
“All youth deserve a chance at a better life,” says Father Mark Hyde, the executive director of Salesians Missions, the U.S. development arm of the Salesians of Don Bosco. “Salesians help youth overcome barriers to success while teaching them how to take responsibility for their own lives. By providing youth an education and the necessary skills to find and retain employment, they are able to support themselves and help their communities.”
Some vocational students are not waiting to graduate to give back to the community. For several years, the youth center in Kankan has remained open every weekday afternoon to allow vocational students to volunteer their time with younger youth from the neighborhood. The students act as mentors and coaches dividing the youth into teams each afternoon to play soccer and engage in other recreational activities. Sports are used as a social and team building exercise for the youth. Without this opportunity, many youth would be left home alone or on the streets after school.
“Sports programs and activities teach young people both on and off the field,” adds Fr. Hyde. “Learning and playing team sports encourages leadership skills as well as teaches youth to work as part of a team. Students also learn important social skills and have opportunities for growth and maturity.”
In addition to their regular studies, vocational students receive extra training on how to best work with youth and pass on the social, emotional and academic skills they are learning. Special days known as “Day in the Family” are also planned so participating neighborhood youth can showcase their new skills for parents and families. The vocational students also provide activities such as dance, music, theater and craft workshops for everyone to participate in.
The youth center in Kankan provides neighborhood youth a safe place for supervised play while providing extra training for the vocational students and an opportunity for them to give back to the community.
UNICEF – Republic of Guinea Poverty