Photo credit: UN Photo/R Lemoyne (1999)
Over the past several years, thousands of families have been forced to abandon their homes, their belongings and their livelihoods in the midst of ethnic violence and turmoil in Kosovo. But now, the outlook for peace and stability is encouraging – and many of the refugees are rapidly returning to their homeland eager to rebuild their shattered lives.
The process will be extremely difficult though, as returnees face enormous challenges. But Salesian programs in Kosovo are poised to make a big impact.
One of the most critical hurdles is the lack of job opportunities, particularly for young people. The unemployment rate for young adults under the age of 25 is an alarming 50%. To make matters worse, most refugees lack the necessary skills that would enable them to pursue self-employment or to form cooperatives.
There is cause for optimism, however, thanks to the Salesian Vocation Training Center in Pristina, Kosova. The facility is equipped with 18 classrooms, 10 shops, 10 offices, a library, 100 computers and a small fleet of vehicles.
Young people attending the Training Center can gain valuable technical skills applicable to a wide variety of occupations. In addition, students receive the job placement assistance needed to find adequate employment.
"With unemployment rates so high, it isn't enough just to teach youth," explains Neill Holland, a program officer with Salesian Missions. "We have to take an active part in helping them find decent and productive work. We know that youth who are skilled, but face prolonged unemployment are at risk for lower employability and wages in adulthood, as well as risky behavior and exposure to violence."