(MissionNewswire) Dulce, Esperança and Paulo are three children among thousands who live in the Lixeira district of Luanda, Angola. These children are supported and cared for by Salesian missionaries who live and work in the region. Lixeira, which means garbage dump, is a neighborhood where survival is difficult amidst extreme conditions of poverty, dust and waste. Salesians provide nutritional and social support as well as educational projects for youth in need.
In response to the pandemic, Salesian staff members have been providing awareness information for children living on the streets and created an emergency center to welcome them and help them stay safe from the virus.
Youth are first met by members of the Salesian street outreach team and provided first aid if they need it. They are invited to Salesian reception houses where they can feel safe and support. If they are open to receiving support, youth are then entered into the school system and live in Salesian boarding houses. In 2019, the Don Bosco Mission in Turin, Italy, provided outreach support to 237 youth, aged 7 to 18, in the Lixeira district.
Salesian missionaries began their work with street children in Angola during the 1990s when groups of children fleeing the war flowed into the capital. Today, long after the war has ended, children are still fleeing their homes for a variety of reasons. Many run away from home because of parent neglect, some as a result of abuse and others because they are thought to be sorcerers or witches who bring misfortune to their families.
"The educational opportunities provided by Salesian programs can be truly life-changing for these children," said Father Gus Baek, director of Salesians Missions, the U.S. development arm of the Salesians of Don Bosco. "Through these programs, both youth and adults have access to schools and educational programs. Classes range from simple lessons in reading and writing for adults in refugee camps to shelter and education for street children. Students are also able to access life skills training, workforce development opportunities and nutrition programs."
Salesian missionaries in Angola have also been rebuilding infrastructure that was damaged during the civil war that lasted from 1975 to 2002. Much was destroyed during the conflict including schools, medical buildings and churches. Living within the communities in which they work, Salesian missionaries have been perfectly positioned to respond to local needs and lead projects for community betterment.
During the civil war, educational disparities were widespread but recent reforms have paved the way for more youth to have better access to education and social equality. According to UNICEF, more than 36 percent of the population lives in poverty. In addition, more than one in 10 children under the age of 14 has lost one or both parents and 43,000 are separated from their families. As a result, nearly a third of these children are working and child trafficking has become an emerging problem in the country.