Zambia is one of the poorest countries on earth, struggling to provide the most basic services for its people: access to clean water and sanitation; quality maternal-child health care; essential food aid; even protection of human rights. This is why, in eight communities across the country, Salesian missionaries work hard to address the root causes, and effects, of such heartbreaking circumstances.
In many ways, their work is more crucial now than when missionaries first arrived in 1982. During the past several decades, family incomes have fallen to historic lows, with dire implications. In rural areas especially, (where 80 percent of the population cannot afford to feed themselves) children suffer acute deprivations that threaten their health, growth and potential. In fact, nearly 100,000 girls and boys under the age of five die every year. Those who survive remain challenged by a lack of educational opportunities that forever trap them in devastating poverty.
“When children can go to school -- and when they are truly supported in their learning -- they become capable of transforming their lives,” says Father Mark Hyde, director of Salesian Missions. “For this reason, education is at the heart of everything we do in Zambia. Concurrent with our services to provide food and other immediate humanitarian needs, our missionaries strive to make school accessible -- and successful -- for as many children as possible.”
In the capital of Lusaka, for example, Salesian missionaries operate a program called City of Hope, which serves some of the area’s most impoverished children and families -- including youth who have been abused, abandoned or trafficked. Here, an on-site shelter provides safe accommodations and support for at-risk girls. These girls – and nearly 800 other youth between the ages of 9 and 17 -- attend the Open Community School, where they receive a basic education, free of charge, and can prepare to enroll in vocational training.
“Hunger is a daily reality for these children,” Fr. Mark says, “as is the risk of waterborne disease. Both of these conditions conspire against educational achievement: malnourished students suffer higher rates of cognitive impairments than their peers and chronic illnesses keep them away from the classroom.”
For these reasons, missionaries also provide clean water and nutritious daily meals. The children are so grateful for the food, in fact, that they call the meals “vi musanina” -- loosely translated as “you will gain weight” or “you will grow healthy.”
“We understand the significant obstacles we face in turning things around: for children, for families, for the country as a whole,” says Brother Robert Malusa, who serves in the rural Salesian community of Lufubu -- where missionaries operate a primary school, an agricultural training school, a working farm and a youth oratory. Recently, Bro. Robert solved a conundrum in a way that would have made Don Bosco himself proud: how to create a consistent stream of income to pay for reliable internet service at the agricultural school. Access to the internet would provide invaluable information to the students. So, with a grant from Salesian Missions, he purchased 1,000 laying hens, whose presence on the grounds provide both real-world agricultural experience and a steady source of income selling eggs.
“It would be easy to become discouraged,” says Bro. Robert, “yet we draw strength from the smiles on our students’ faces, and the kind and generous support of the many donors who make our work possible.”
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