(MissionNewswire) Salesian missionaries have prioritized helping youth living on the streets in the city of Lubumbashi in the southeastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Lubumbashi and its surrounding areas have a population close to 8.2 million with most living in poverty. While the city has wealth from both agricultural and mineral resources, it faces numerous economic and social challenges.
A simple walk along the main streets of Lubumbashi shows just how many minors are on the street instead of in school or with their parents. Children leave their homes for many reasons including divorce, family abuse and poverty, among others. Living on the streets is dangerous for these youth as they are exposed to all sorts of abuses and many are forced to turn to petty crime to survive.
Many people pity the children and are willing to help them, but their charity does not help get them off the streets. Instead, it makes their living on the streets more stable and permanent. The situation is even worse for girls who often end up in prostitution and are subjected to psychological and physical traumas with lifelong effects.
Salesian missionaries note recent assessments that indicate nearly 95 percent of street children use drugs in some form or another, including the consumption of glue, often from petrol or lacquers. Many children carry a small bottle in their hands and inhale the glue all day. When asked why, most said they want to be more lucid and strong enough to work and face the day and that they don’t want to think about the shame of having to beg.
Inhalation of glue generates dependence and causes the same problems other addictive substances do like an inability to control its use, negative effects on the brain and neurotransmitters and the likelihood of it being a gateway to other stronger substances.
Salesian missionaries encourage youth to seek the support of caring adults who can help them turn their lives around and connect them with appropriate shelter and education. In Lubumbashi, missionaries operate Bakanja Ville which is part of the local Salesian Bakanja Center for homeless children. Bakanja Ville marks the first stop in the process of welcoming children into the Salesian program, acting as a drop-in and reception center for homeless youth who are looking to escape the challenges of living on the streets.
The doors of Bakanja Ville are always open. Youth can access the program to take a shower, sleep, eat, wash their clothes and engage in activities. A personal file is opened for each young person who enters. Then, Salesian missionaries begin a search for family to see if reintegration is possible with the help of social workers. If not, youth are tracked into other Salesian programs where they can access education and have their basic needs met. Salesian missionaries also go out into the street twice a month to help connect with street children in their own environment to tell them about the program and offer them a safe place to stay.
“Children who are living on the streets experience discrimination and exclusion every day,” says Father Mark Hyde, director of Salesian Missions, the U.S. development arm of the Salesians of Don Bosco. “Children who are able to access programs that help them come in off the streets—where they face poverty and are at-risk for exploitation—have a chance at a better life. Salesian programs aim to help children live safely while getting the emotional support they need and the education that will help them live independently.”
Despite its vast material wealth, the Democratic Republic of Congo has long been a very poor nation. Half of the country’s population lives below the poverty line living on less than $1 a day, especially those in rural communities. Because of ongoing strife and violence within the country, more than 8.5 million people are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance, a figure that’s expected to increase to 13.1 million in 2018. More than 4.1 million Congolese are now displaced with 620,000 seeking refuge in neighboring countries. More than 7.5 million people do not have enough food to eat.
Salesian missionaries have been working in the Democratic Republic of Congo for more than 100 years ensuring that the most vulnerable children are not forgotten. Salesian primary and secondary schools and programs lay the foundation for early learning while Salesian trade, vocational and agricultural programs offer many youth the opportunity for a stable and productive future.
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UNICEF – DR Congo