According to United Nations estimates, more than 150 million children worldwide are living outside the care of their families. While the reasons are many (domestic abuse, natural disasters, and loss of a parent to war or disease top the list), their options are few. In Colombia -- as in the more than 130 countries where they work -- Salesian missionaries are giving new hope to these children in crisis.
Often, this is an uphill battle. In the capital city of Medellin, violent drug wars routinely tear families apart. At the same time, guerilla groups aggressively recruit and often outright kidnap boys and girls -- some as young as 8 years old -- to fight in a brutal civil war they don’t understand.
“Without the support of their families, these children are particularly vulnerable to violence, disease, malnutrition, and even death,” says Father Mark Hyde, director of Salesian Missions. “Many find themselves living on the streets, with no one to protect them from the dangers of exploitation and substance abuse.”
Recognizing the unique and heartbreaking struggles such boys and girls face, Salesian missionaries are working in communities throughout Colombia to serve these youth abandoned by society. In fact, Cuidad Don Bosco (“Don Bosco City”), in the capital of Medellin, is one of the oldest and largest programs for street children in Latin America.
Since it began in 1965, the program has rescued more than 83,000 boys and girls. Here, Salesian missionaries offer a multi-pronged approach designed to address the broad social issues that contribute to these children’s plight -- and the vocational training that will equip them with the skills necessary to break the cycle of violence and poverty.
The rehabilitative process begins with shelter, food and clothing. Salesian missionaries and lay volunteers walk the streets by day, befriending at-risk youth and encouraging them to visit Don Bosco City -- where they receive all three, plus the chance to play among other children. If a child wishes to stay at Don Bosco City, she next moves to a designated house, where she begins remedial education and learns valuable life skills, including how to live with others. The third and final stage of the process culminates with job skills training or attendance at local secondary schools.
“We know that equal access to an education -- for boys and girls -- is one of the primary determinants of a better future for homeless and abandoned youth,” says Fr. Mark. “In Colombia especially, where almost 20 percent of school-age children do not attend school, it is crucial that we offer this opportunity to as many youth as we can.”
Don Bosco City is just one of many Salesian-run programs serving abandoned youth throughout Colombia. The Children of the Street program in Bogota serves approximately 9,000 girls and boys each year, for example; and in Cali, a special vocational training and youth center works to rehabilitate and educate former child soldiers.
Help us ensure that children who lack caring adults to protect and guide them, receive the love and support they so desperately need and deserve. With your generosity and kindness, abandoned youth around the globe are given hope and opportunity through learning new skills, finding employment, and becoming productive members of society.
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