Salesian Students, Paying it Forward for Benin

Publication Date: 
May 12, 2016

During his time in service to the young, Don Bosco encouraged his students to “practice what’s been taught” -- to take the lessons and skills learned in and out of the classroom, and apply them in ways that could improve their own lives and prospects, as well as those of others in need. Today in Pamplona, Spain -- influenced by Don Bosco’s wisdom -- volunteers from the Salesian-run Youth and Development Center are doing just that.

For the second time in two years, these young volunteers have launched a campaign called “Food for Benin”. They organized students and staff from area Salesian schools, and parents and parishioners from local communities, to collect nonperishable food and other donations to benefit children and families they have never met, living thousands of miles away.

“Campaigns like these are a great example of how youth in Salesian programs are able to take what they have learned and pay it forward -- supporting families in other communities in a time of need,” says Father Mark Hyde, director of Salesian Missions. “Their efforts give me great hope.”

With close to 70 percent of its population living on as little as $1.25 per day, Benin is one of the poorest countries in the world. In the capital of Porto Novo, especially, the effects of such extreme poverty are profoundly evident. Thousands of youth live on the streets, where -- in addition to rampant violence and exploitation -- they are vulnerable to chronic malnutrition and treatable illnesses that should not be fatal, but often are. And the cycle of poverty and despair remains unbreakable.

Thanks to a long-established Salesian presence in Porto Novo and throughout Benin -- where missionaries run schools, youth shelters, outreach programs, vocational training centers and more -- the students’ efforts are guaranteed to impact those most in need. By shipping donations directly to these Salesian programs, students know that participating children and families will benefit immediately.

Recently, volunteers from the campaign gathered to load a shipping container with the donations they had collected. More than 25 tons of rice, lentils, beans, pasta and other staples are now on their way to Benin. Last year’s campaign supplied similar quantities of food, as well as school supplies, clothing and even bicycles for poor youth.

“This project truly reflects what Pope Francis has asked of each of us in this Jubilee Year of Mercy,” says Fr. Mark. “It is an act of mercy to feed the hungry, something these students so wonderfully embody in witness to God’s compassion.”

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