Burundi: Salesian missionaries provide vocational education to help youth prepare for the future
(MissionNewswire) Salesian Father Jean Paul Ndayikengurutse is the director and pastor of the Salesian Center in Rukago, Burundi, which provides education, workforce development and other social programs to poor and at-risk youth in the region. Burundi, located in the heart of the African Great Lakes region, has seen more than a decade of violence and conflict which has contributed to widespread poverty, according to UNICEF. Burundi ranks 184 out of 188 countries on the 2015 UN Human Development Index and close to 70 percent of its residents live below the poverty line.
Children are some of the most severely affected by the country’s rampant poverty. Fifty-three percent of children under the age of 5 suffer from growth stunting caused by inadequate food, low-quality diet, poor infant feeding practices, poor household management of childhood diseases and the general decline of the country’s health system.
“I’m a priest with a young spirit. I love to play and chat, listen to and share the problems of so many young people who come to our community,” says Fr. Jean Paul. “I am the first of nine children and the only one of my family to have become a priest. I fell in love with the charisma, mission and work that the Salesians, following the spirit of Don Bosco, live and transmit to the young. I attended their oratory since childhood because they had a community right in my hometown, Ngozi, and that’s where my vocation was born.”
Because of the extreme poverty in the region, Salesian missionaries are helping youth as much as they can. The youth center and parish are open every day. Youth are able to take part in sports, cultural and educational activities. They have a safe place to connect with their peers and access to adults who provide them the mentorship and support they need. Fr. Jean Paul has noted that 60,000 people attend the parish and youth center activities.
“We also have 235 students who attend our vocational training center,” adds Fr. Jean Paul. “At the Don Bosco Artisanal Center, there are courses in mechanics, carpentry, welding and construction from 8:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. In addition to studies, they also dedicate time to traditional activities, such as catechism and sports.”
Salesian missionaries in the area aim to improve the vocational and technical skills training for youth so they are better able to find and retain stable employment. Also in Janauary 2017, the Spanish Salesian-run organization Don Bosco Solidarity launched the project “Improving the Opportunities of Women in Rukago.” The new initiative was launched to help women gain the skills needed to find and retain employment and is in direct response to the level of sexual violence, stigma of HIV and high maternal mortality rate faced by women in Burundi.
The project will foster the participation of young women in the field of vocational training. New courses have been developed in cooking and hotel management, as well as workshops that will help educate the community about gender equality and the benefits of quality employment for women. Bridging the gap between the school curriculum and the practical skills needed to succeed in the labor market, the project will also offer women a chance to put the skills they have learned in the classroom into practice under the guidance of qualified workers and supervisors. Through this work in the field, students will learn new techniques and gain a hands-on application of classroom studies.