They are the forgotten. They are exploited. These outcasts are the former child soldiers, runaway youth, forced laborers, and abused youngsters who are living in the margins of society in the Democratic Republic of Congo (D.R.C.). Robbed of their rights and their education, they held little hope of escaping their circumstances -- until now.
Recognizing the unique vulnerabilities of such youth, Salesian missionaries in Uvira (located in the South Kivu province) have launched a new three-year training program combining remedial education with vocational training.
“Most of these young people have a very limited education,” says Father Mark Hyde, director of Salesian Missions. “They may have attended a few years of primary school before being forced by circumstances to drop out. With this new project, marginalized youth can learn a trade, find sustainable employment, and become contributing members of their communities.”
Currently, the program enrolls 30 school-age children and 40 older youth. In order to ensure their continued presence in the classrooom, Salesian missionaries provide everything the students need: desks; books and educational supplies; tools; opportunities for recreation and enrichment activities; and even transportation to and from school when necessary. Beginning with remedial instruction with a focus on literacy, the program works to improve the students’ knowledge base in order to prepare them for advanced skills training. Students also receive a daily meal, which -- in addition to the nutritional value -- assists their ability to focus and learn.
Noting D.R.C.’s tragic legacy of senseless wars, human rights violations, and vast income inequality, Fr. Mark notes that “in many ways, this new program is a resource for D.R.C.’s future. It is an instrument for realizing a more just, humane, and developed society.”
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