New Industry and New Hope for Youth in Colombia

Publication Date: 
March 10, 2014

In a country where six million people live in extreme poverty -- and where one in five children lacks access to school -- the youth of Colombia face futures with little opportunity. By fostering connections among vocational training, sustainable development and long-term skilled employment, Salesian missionaries in the city of Santander de Quilichao aim to change that -- one biomass cylinder at a time.

These cylinders -- composed of organic matter such as tree bark, coffee plant leaves and other “leftover” forest material -- can be used in fireplaces, stoves and other units to generate heat. What’s more, as an affordable, reliable and environmentally friendly replacement for fossil fuels such as coal, demand for biomass is rising.

Recognizing this trend as a unique opportunity to provide hands-on training in an innovative field, Salesian missionaries at Villa Don Bosco opened a biomass manufacturing facility in June 2013.

The project is the result of a collaboration among the Salesians and two like-minded organizations: the Leopold Bachmann Foundation in Zurich, Switzerland; and the Salesian NGO Jugendhilfe Weitweit in Austria. Both provide financial and technical support for vocational education and sustainable development projects, with the ultimate goal of helping youth break the cycle of poverty.

At the factory, a staff of five -- all of whom are graduates of Villa Don Bosco -- are responsible for collecting raw, “leftover”  materials from 1,400 acres of nearby forest plantations, as well as from local coffee farmers who benefit from the additional income. These alumni also run the machines that process the materials into small biomass cylinders capable of generating 16 hours of heat.

Funds from the sale of these cylinders support and educate more than 3,000 youth at Villa Don Bosco and a neighboring  Salesian-run vocational center. Here, students learn skilled trades such as cabinetmaking, electricity, culinary arts, mechanics and systems analysis. Currently, the cylinders are exported to Switzerland by agreement with the Leopold Bachmann Foundation; within five years, the market is expected to be opened to include Colombia.

“This visionary new project offers a sustainable model for educating youth, creating opportunities and lifting entire communities out of poverty -- all by meeting a basic human need,” says Fr. Mark Hyde, director of Salesian Missions. “Everyone involved with the plant is very proud of their contribution, as they should be.”

Thanks to your caring support, Salesian Missions provides new opportunities and new hope for people in some of the poorest places on the planet. Through your generosity, young people are learning trades, gaining employment, and becoming self-sufficient in ways that truly break the cycle of poverty.

Our mission gives hope to millions of youth around the globe in 130+ countries. What’s your mission?

Help now with a gift