COLOMBIA: Salesian Missions Provides Recommended Services for "At Risk" Youth Highlighted in New Watchlist Report

NEW ROCHELLE, NY (April 25, 2012) - Salesian Missions responds to a new report on "Children and Armed Conflict in Colombia" from Watchlist, a network of international non-governmental organizations that researches and disseminates information with the aim to protect children in war zones. The report was released in April 2012.

“Children should not have to face the perils of war. But in many countries around the globe, children—both boys and girls—are recruited by force to fight ongoing battles in their homelands,” says Father Mark Hyde, director of Salesian Missions. “They are subjected to sexual violence, psychological and physical harm and even death. In and many other countries, Salesians have developed programs to assist these children.”

These programs are in alignment with the recommendations outlined in the Watchlist report.

The report noted that, “More than half of an estimated 3.9 to 5.3 million internally displaced people in Colombia are under 18, rendering them even more vulnerable to the threats that caused them to flee their homes in the first place.” Children in Colombia have been subjected to forced recruitment as child soldiers, sexual violence and rape, physical harm and death. Furthermore, they have been denied humanitarian assistance.

Education is at risk in Colombia. According to the report, schools have been used for military purposes. The national armed forces have occupied school buildings or camped nearby. Instead of being a refuge and a place for learning, schools have been utilized as a method of recruitment. In response, guerrilla groups have planted land mines around the schools without recording their locations, preventing children from attending school altogether.

Teachers are under attack as well. The report detailed that according to the teacher’s union in Colombia, “between 1991 and 2011, 871 teachers were killed, about 3,000 threatened, 1,070 forcibly displaced, and 60 reported missing.”

“Without education, youth cannot advance their lives and break the cycle of poverty, adds Fr. Mark. “They end up on the streets even more vulnerable to forced recruitment and physical harm.”

The report goes beyond just identifying the severity of the problems facing children in Colombia. It also provides a series of recommendations to governments, NGOs and donors to help support youth and alleviate their suffering.

For nonprofit organizations like Salesian Missions—that have a long standing investment in humanitarian work in Colombia—the report suggests they should offer pyscho-social assistance and income-generating activities for children formerly associated with armed groups. They also recommend providing survivors of sexual violence, particularly in rural areas, adequate psycho-social, medical and legal care and support.

The report also suggests that programs should offer flexible schooling to allow children from rural areas, poor backgrounds, and those who were internally displaced an opportunity to continue to attend school by adapting the times and curriculum to meet their needs.

The report’s recommendations are work the Salesians know all too well.

“The Salesians have been working with youth in Colombia for more than 40 years,” says Father Mark Hyde. “We have built schools in places that previously lacked access to education – like the remote village of Condoto. We provide services to homeless children at Don Bosco City in Medellin as well as focus on critical psycho-social and educational services to displaced youth in refugee camps across the country.”

Don Bosco City in Medellin is one of the oldest and largest programs for street children in Latin America. Beginning in 1965, Don Bosco City has served 83,000 boys and girls. It began in 1965 with 125 children, and today serves more than 1,500 children, youth and families per year. The program serves both boys and girls and goes beyond traditional homeless shelters by providing a three-stage program, culminating in vocational training.

“Through this model of education and rehabilitation, youth are able to learn the skills needed to support themselves and break the cycle of poverty,” says Fr. Hyde.

In Bogota, an internationally-recognized program helps street children overcome challenges – from where to find a nutritious meal to how to pursue an education and find a job. Through the Children of the Street program from the Salesians Youth Service Foundation, instructors who were once street children themselves provide the support and stability needed for at-risk children and youth to rebuild their lives.

With Salesian efforts that focus on providing educational opportunities to children and youth, students in refugee camps learn valuable job skills which will not only provide income, but also reduce the likelihood they will be recruited as child soldiers. More than 70 percent of graduating students are placed in jobs through Salesian Missions partnerships with community organizations and private sector companies.

“No matter the program or population of youth we serve in http://www.salesianmissions.org/our-work/country/colombia, our aim is always to provide market-driven technical vocational training, preventive and curative health treatment, and counseling services,” explained Fr. Hyde. “Our goal is to help alleviate current traumas and provide a foundation of supports and education that will assist youth in years to come and enable them to provide for themselves and their communities.”

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