Rome: The Salesians of Don Bosco on September 5 joined the United Nations and organizations around the globe to observe the International Day of Charity.
The UN General Assembly chose the date tat commemorates the death anniversary of Saint Mother Teresa of Kolkata. She had received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 “for work undertaken in the struggle to overcome poverty and distress, which also constitute a threat to peace.”
According to the United Nations, “The International Day of Charity was established with the objective of sensitizing and mobilizing people, NGOs and stakeholders all around the world to help others through volunteer and philanthropic activities.”
Charity, as defined by the United Nations, includes volunteerism and philanthropy and aims to alleviate the worst effects of humanitarian crises and supplement public services in health care, education, housing and child protection. The United Nations also notes that charity promotes the rights of the marginalized and underprivileged and spreads the message of humanity in conflict situations.
Nearly 30,000 Salesian priests, brothers, sisters and novices work in more than 130 countries around the globe bringing poor youth and their families education, workforce development and social programs. They work in most challenging circumstances and are among the first to respond at the times of humanitarian crises or natural disasters.
“Education is always our primary focus, but we know youth are dealing with much more than just needing access to education,” says Father Mark Hyde, director of Salesian Missions, the U.S. development arm of the Salesians of Don Bosco. “Salesian missionaries work to meet basic needs like shelter, food and medical care while also working to ensure that humanitarian aid reaches those who need it most.”
On the International Day of Charity, the Salesians highlighted their unique educational and social programs that help the poor and at-risk youth meet their basic needs, receive an education and find a path out of poverty, bringing them hope for the future.
Among them is the Bangalore Oniyavara Seva Coota (BOSCO), managed by the Bangalore province. It serves child laborers, victims of child abuse and youth who are orphaned, abandoned or live on the streets of the third most populous city in India. Nine BOSCO rehabilitation centers and six outreach hubs are spread throughout the city to assist these children in need.
During its nearly 40-year-old history, BOSCO has helped improve the lives of more than 125,000 children. It continues to rescue and rehabilitate close to 7,000 children each year. Many street children have run away from home in search of work or to escape violence or other family difficulties.
According to UNICEF, more than 40,000 children go missing every year in India. Of these, close to 11,000 remain untraced. As many cases go unreported, it is suspected that the actual number of missing children is much higher. Many runaways come to major cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Bengaluru in search of work and a better life. Most of them live on the streets and on the country’s railway platforms where they beg, steal or perform menial jobs to survive. All too often, they fall victim to child traffickers.
Once youth are identified by BOSCO and convinced to come in off the street, their basic needs are provided for including housing, food and clothing. In addition, they receive counseling and, if appropriate, are reunited back with their families.
Education is also a primary component of BOSCO and is provided to those in the rehabilitation program while those who are returned to their families have access to Salesian schools throughout India. Youth who continue their education are more likely to find and retain stable employment later in life and break the cycle of poverty.
The Salesians are engaged in similar activities in other countries.
For example in El Salvador, one of the most violent countries in Central America along with Honduras and Guatemala, their FUSALMO, offers traditional and non-traditional educational opportunities for at-risk youth in communities within San Salvador. Through recreational programs, enrichment opportunities in the arts and music, vocational training and more, youth are able to stay off the streets, learn to cooperate and co-exist and gain the skills they need to become productive, contributing members of a more peaceful society. Founded in 2001, the organization has positively impacted the lives of more than 265,000 children and their families.
In Kenya, the Salesians and UNHCR set up the Kakuma refugee camp in 1992 near the country’s border with South Sudan to shelter unaccompanied minors fleeing warring factions in what was then southern Sudan. Today, the Kakuma refugee camp has more than 185,000 refugees, well over the 120,000-person capacity for which it was built. More than 44 percent of the refugees at the camp are from South Sudan and arrived after fleeing the country to escape conflict and violence.
The Salesian missionaries have served Sierra Leone since 2001 when they began working to rehabilitate former child soldiers. Since then, the Don Bosco Fambul, located in the country’s capital city of Freetown, has become one of the country’s leading child welfare organizations—offering food, clothing, crisis intervention services, shelter, educational opportunities, long-term counseling and family reunification.
Don Bosco Fambul reaches out to an estimated 2,500 street children each year.