VENEZUELA: Salesian missionaries launch communal feeding programs for the elderly and at-risk youth
(MissionNewswire) Salesian missionaries operate a feeding program at the “La Dolorita” Salesian Technical & Vocational School in the outskirts of Caracas, Venezuela. Known as the “Communal Pots & Pans” program, it provides meals to those most in need in the community, including the elderly, families and at-risk youth. Inspired by Pope Francis and the Year of Mercy, some Salesian parishes across Venezuela began to organize campaigns to respond to the intense food crisis that plagues the country.
Caritas Venezuela, another Catholic organization operating in Venezuela, has issues a warning that some 280,000 children could die of malnutrition due to food shortages amidst the country’s grave economic crisis. In a new report, Caritas notes that both the quantity and quality of food has dropped across Venezuela, due to the chronic shortage of products available and high inflation rates.
Salesian feeding campaigns started to address the number of families already suffering from increased food shortages and the low incomes that limited their purchasing power as prices began to rise in the country. This hunger has caused the elderly and children to be sick and unable to engage in their normal activities. They were physically weak and unable to mentally focus. Providing these feeding programs brought those most at risk back into the social fold of these Salesian programs as well, allowing people to engage with their neighbors, friends and other community members.
“We started this work in the sectors of Chorrito and Limoncito,” says Father Ignacio Espinoza, a Salesian priest living in the La Dolorita neighborhood, one of the marginalized areas of the capital city, in an article for Revista Vida Nueva Colombia. “People encouraged by Salesian missionaries began coming together and sharing what they could for the communal cooking pot. Each member would offer what they could. People brought potatoes, celery, carrots, yucca, onions, various dressings, which was added to the soup along with chicken or other meat that was available. This was then shared with those who needed it most in the community.”
Other Salesian communities then began doing the same. When the Laureate Sisters of the Vicariate of St. Catherine of Siena were told that children were not able to take part in their religious lessons because they were not eating properly, they mobilized the community to offer a Saturday breakfast. Sixty children benefit from this weekend program that helps ensure children have a good meal when not in school. Children have responded better and are more alert and engaged.
Programs like this are critical at this time because Venezuela is experiencing the worst economic crisis in its history, with an inflation rate of more than 400 percent and a volatile exchange rate. The World Bank, as well as the latest data provided by the Venezuela Living Conditions Survey in 2016, found around 81 percent of Venezuelan households are now living in income poverty, up from 75.6 percent in 2015. This has led to political and social unrest in the country.
It’s been reported that both food and medicine in the country are also scarce. The oil price crash in 2014 and resulting policies by President Nicolas Maduro have led to mass shortages of food and other products. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) predicts inflation will reach 1,642 percent by the end of 2017. As many as 85 of every 100 medicines are missing in the country. Shortages are so extreme that patients sometimes take medicines ill-suited for their conditions.
Salesian missionaries continue their work in the country despite volatile conditions. They aim to provide education, workforce development and social development services to poor youth and their families.
World Bank – Venezuela