NEW ROCHELLE, NY (March 8, 2012) - International Women’s Day—created by the United Nations and celebrated by organizations and countries around the globe—is observed each year on March 8.
According to the United Nations, “it is a day when women are recognized for their achievements without regard to divisions, whether national, ethnic, linguistic, cultural, economic or political. It is an occasion for looking back on past struggles and accomplishments, and more importantly, for looking ahead to the untapped potential and opportunities that await future generations of women.”
It is also a day for celebrating organizations and people who work year round to empower women and girls in an effort to make the world a better place. It is work that too often goes uncelebrated.
Salesian programs empower girls in impoverished countries around the globe by helping them build a sense of dignity and self worth, says Father Mark Hyde, director of Salesian Missions, the U.S. development arm of the Salesians of Don Bosco.
“Education builds self esteem and opens the door to opportunity,” he says. “By providing girls with the opportunity to learn life skills and a trade, they become self sufficient and are able to care for their families. When girls have access to education, families are made stronger and have more opportunities to remain together—breaking the cycle of poverty and improving entire communities.”
Salesian Missions has programs helping the poor in more than 130 countries around the globe. Many of these programs focus on empowering women and girls through education. Here are some examples of that work:
In Bolivia, women face more difficulties finding good education and productive jobs, according to the 2003 Human Development Report on Gender. In addition, education of women and girls impacts the health and education of their children.
Through the innovative “Girls in the Vanguard” initiative of Salesian Missions and USAID, more than 1,000 girls in five key countries – including Bolivia – were given the opportunity to receive training and obtain jobs in the private sector. Training focused on jobs with advancement potential, in areas that were often male-dominated. Special business advisory councils and past pupil associations were formed at each site to provide additional assistance. The program took place from 2001-2006, giving girls and young women in Bolivia the skills needed for a better future for them, their families and their communities.
In Cambodia, education for girls opens doors to opportunities. With basic education, girls are better equipped to face the daily dangers of human trafficking, child prostitution and substance abuse. Today, more than 2,000 girls who live in poverty have access to basic education through the Don Bosco Children’s Fund. In addition, with vocational and technical education, they see possibilities for jobs and independence. Hundreds of students at four specialized schools for girls/young women will open new doors with skills in printing, electronics, secretarial skills and sewing.
The “Right to Dream” program for many poverty-stricken children in Medellin. One such child is Alejandra – who now has access to social support and educational program previously unimaginable to her and her siblings as they worked on the streets to help their family survive. One hundred students ages 7-18 receive vocational training and hot meals.
In the Dominican Republic, women striving for a better life find support with the “Madres Project” in Santo Domingo. The project addresses the root causes of street children by working with mothers. By learning skills to earn a living wage in the workforce, women in charge of families can improve their living conditions and keep their children off the streets. Women complete courses in literacy, post-literacy, health care and various modules of computer studies. All training modules include lessons in human rights. The program is a partnership with Salesian Missions and the International Volunteer Movement for Development. In addition, they run a training program for youth in the poorest areas of the city called “Boys and Girls with Don Bosco.”
Girls in Ghana find less opportunity than boys to improve their lives through education. In many cases, girls are expected to contribute to the family’s income – which takes priority over attending classes.
Through a boarding school for girls in Odumase, girls have the opportunity to continue their studies while learning job skills that will also help their family.
More than 21% of Guatemalans had an income of less than $1 a day in 2004 – no improvement since 1989 according to the Pan American Health Organization. Extreme poverty is often associated with rural life.
Rural Q’echi (Mayans) are among the rural populations looking to improve their lives. Through Salesian Missions programs, they are focusing on increasing the capacity of their communities. With the assistance of the Q’echi promoters, community groups are educated in self management for projects benefiting family and community. Salesians also work through the Foundation for Advancement of Indigenous Women in Guatemala (Talita Kumi) to raise the status of women and empower them to become house hold and community decision-makers.
In India, education can help overcome inequities in jobs and income that are related to gender. Nisha’s story is an example of how one woman’s achievement helps contribute to the community as a whole:
Nisha, strong and confident, works in her beauty salon doing manicures, styling hair and doing facials in Pune, an Indian town with more than a million inhabitants. “Finally I am able to work for my own living and to offer my children a good education,” Nisha says. But it was not always so. Married as a young girl, Nisha worked as a maid and had to take care of her husband after a severe accident. Her life took a new direction after she became acquainted with the self-help groups founded by the Salesians of Don Bosco and now supported by Jugend Dritte Welt, an NGO affiliated with the Salesians. “Suddenly I wasn’t alone and found a new perspective for my life,” says Nisha. After completing a cosmetics course, Nisha opened her own beauty salon. Today she is able to repay her microcredit loans that she owed to the support group. More than 900 women participate in the microfinancing and skills training groups.
At the Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya, girls and women receive training opportunities and learn about the important role they play in society and the community. The microfinance program funded by UNHCR and Caritas Italiana offers graduates, women and other refugees an opportunity to establish small business ventures using skills learned.
The Salesians in Mexico are directing their efforts toward the country's at-risk population, including girls and young mothers who face severe dangers on the streets. Innovative programs are preventing poor children from dropping out of school and are providing important opportunities to keep their lives on the right track.
In Mexico City, girls and mothers face severe dangers living on the streets. Through the “Yolia” program, girls and women become regulars at the day center. There, they have meals, receive tutoring, obtain therapy, and learn job skills such as jewelry making and hair styling. Some girls may also choose to live in the residential area, where they receive additional education and services, while building a sense of dignity and self worth.
The number of women in the Peruvian workforce is increasing, according to the Pan-American Health Organization. So, too, is the need for job training for marketable skills that will help women support themselves and their families.
Since 1982, Salesian Missions has offered training for girls at a vocational school in Yanama. Currently, more than 300 students enrolled in these schools, which are now located in parts of Brazil, Bolivia and Ecuador, as well as Peru. Girls are trained in using alpaca and sheep wool to make sweaters, rugs, gloves and other articles, which are marketed locally and abroad. On graduating, they receive a weaving machine as the first step in the new career.
In the Philippines, drop-out rates double as children reach secondary school, according to UNICEF, and there are more than 11 million out-of-school youth.
Salesian Missions’ Tuloy Foundation provides another chance for at-risk youth to succeed in school. Street children are able to take part in an alternative learning module with five levels of instruction in six subjects. Children progress from first grade through high school. Older youth pursue vocational training in a variety of technologies, including automotive, electrical, welding and woodworking. The school developed specialized classes focused on female students, including bag making courses.
South Africa has one of the world’s highest crime rates, according to UNICEF. While violence impacts everyone, gender-based violence is a significant problem. Girls who live on the street face violence, drug addiction, abuse and other dangers. The “Unwind Your Mind” camps are specifically-designed to encourage girls to talk about what brought them to the street and consider their goals for the future. They also looked at the importance that young women play in society.
When a Salesian Missions secondary school opened in Didia, Tanzania, it was the first secondary school within a 40 mile radius. Just as important, girls had the opportunity to take part in classes at the co-educational facility.