In Bukavu, a city in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, the streets are filled with homeless children. These desperately poor girls and boys wash windshields, carry luggage, beg and sometimes even steal in order to feed themselves. It’s a heartbreaking situation that our Salesian missionaries are working hard to address.
“We saw this was a growing problem -- children permanently ending up on the streets with nowhere to go, no way to improve their prospects,” says Father Piero Gavioli, a Salesian missionary serving in this northeastern region of the war-torn, impoverished country. “And so we were called to help.”
Out of that call, the Don Bosco Center was born in 2014. Ideally located near Bukavu’s main square, and the youth it serves, the Center represents a turning point: a place where children can discover new dignity, new hope and the skills they need to build brighter futures through psychosocial and educational support.
Operated by Fr. Piero and two other Salesian missionaries, the Center provides approximately 100 area children with opportunities for recreation and play, four afternoons per week. This is how most of the children are first exposed to new possibilities.
“This gets them away from the dangers and temptations of the streets, and interacting with each other in positive, challenging and fun ways that build their confidence, self-esteem and problem-solving skills,” explains Fr. Piero.
There is also a school at the Center, where remedial classes help children build their literacy skills in preparation for advanced education. After mastering French and computer training, older students may also choose to pursue professional training in carpentry, construction or driving during an 8-month certificate course.
Three years ago, Ishara, 19, was among the Don Bosco Center’s first students. Born to an impoverished mother with eight other children and abandoned by his father, he lived with his family in a precariously built shack perched high on a mountain more than an hour and a half away from Bukavu. Still, he managed to attend school there, and even helped support the family by selling toys on the streets at the end of each day. Unfortunate circumstances depleted the little money he saved, forcing Ishara to survive on the streets and abandon school.
When hope was almost completely lost, an opportunity arose. The Don Bosco Center saved Ishara from becoming another sad street kid statistic.
After two months of refresher classes, Ishara took the school’s orientation test and was accepted into the carpentry program -- where he thrived. After further building his skills in a three-month postgraduate internship, he now works with an experienced carpenter in a neighborhood workshop, where he earns enough money to purchase his own clothes and provide assistance to his mother and siblings. The Don Bosco Center staff still actively support Ishara, teaching him how to create and manage a budget as well as plan for the future.
Today, 50 students participate in vocational training at the Don Bosco Center in Bukavu.
“Young people like Ishara prove that with the right support at the right time, children can, indeed, overcome seemingly hopeless situations,” says Father Mark Hyde, director of Salesian Missions. “With assistance from the Don Bosco Center, at-risk youth in Bukavu have an unprecedented opportunity to educate themselves, connect with their peers, and gain the work and social skills necessary to blossom into independent, financially secure adults.”
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