(MissionNewswire) Salesian missionaries in Ecuador focus on providing education, social programming and workforce development to help the country’s most vulnerable citizens. Technical and vocational education is also provided to help youth gain the skills needed to find and retain long-term stable employment.
In Manta, youth and their families are still going through the arduous process of rebuilding from the devastation wreaked by a 7.8 earthquake that killed close to 700 and initially left tens of thousands homeless in Ecuador. The earthquake, which struck on April 16, 2016, destroyed water systems, collapsed roads and affected 33 health centers. In addition, 560 schools and close to 10,000 buildings were either damaged or completely destroyed.
According to UNICEF, nearly 120,000 children were in need of temporary educational spaces. UNICEF and its humanitarian partners have noted that $23 million was required to meet the needs of at least 250,000 children in the affected areas.
In 2018, Salesian missionaries inaugurated new school buildings, including a building for general classrooms and a new building to house the physics, mathematics, biology and chemistry labs, and three classes for computer science. There is also a new central courtyard, a refectory, an area with synthetic grass and a multipurpose field. The second phase of reconstruction included the development of a new administrative building, an auditorium and a gym. While construction of replacement buildings has been mostly completed, many of the local families still rely on food rations, medical provisions and school supplies to survive.
“Because Salesian missionaries live in the communities they work, they are often among the first to respond in times of crisis and they are there long after other humanitarian aid has left,” says Father Mark Hyde, director of Salesian Missions, the U.S. development arm of the Salesians of Don Bosco. “Salesian missionaries continue to rebuild communities in Ecuador, helping people to rebuild physical structures but also rebuild their livelihoods through education and skills training.”
At the Don Bosco House in Quito, Salesian missionaries care for children as young as 9 years old who have been forced into work or are living on the streets. There are more than 90 youth in the program who are provided shelter, nutrition, health care, education and/or vocational training, as well as access to personal and family psychological support. The goal is to help youth enjoy their childhood while they gain the skills and education needed for a positive future.
The Salesian Polytechnic University also has a campus in Quito, which focuses on providing a college-level education, particularly to indigenous students. A residence hall built by Salesian missionaries specifically for indigenous students allows them to live and work together, sharing customs and knowledge. The university also provides opportunities for these students to share their indigenous traditions with teachers and peers.
Ecuador’s poverty rate was 36.7 percent in 2007 and dropped to 22.9 percent in 2016. These results show that 1.4 million Ecuadorians escaped poverty within nine years. However, many Ecuadorians still live in impoverished conditions. Ecuador is one of the most inequitable societies in the world, according to UNICEF. The richest 20 percent of the population receives almost 50 percent of the national income, while the poorest 20 percent receives only 5 percent.
According to the World Food Program, almost 26 percent of all children under age 5 have stunted growth, increasing to 31 percent in rural areas and 47 percent in indigenous communities.
Close to 20 percent of Ecuador’s population is people of indigenous heritage. For poor, rural and indigenous youth, education provides the best opportunity for finding employment, reducing inequities and breaking the cycle of poverty. Salesian missionaries have been providing education and other social programs for disadvantaged youth across Ecuador for more than 125 years.