(MissionNewswire) Salesian missionaries working in Pugnido, Ethiopia provide several programs and services to help those living in poverty meet their basic needs, gain an education and learn skills for employment. They also work inside the Pugnido Refugee Camp, the oldest refugee camp in the Gambella region of Western Ethiopia, providing poor youth and their families with education and social development services.
The mission’s Catholic mass on Sunday and catechism are well attended as is the daily evening church services. Close to 200 children attend the Salesian-run kindergarten. Thanks to the provision of breakfast and lunch, many children attend school and learn to read, write and do arithmetic. Most importantly, the feeding program prevents malnutrition, which many children are affected by in the country.
There are also 65 students, both boys and girls, who make use of the Salesian hostel while attending the government high school. Salesian missionaries have started activities to keep youth engaged and occupied after school, including study time in the afternoon and computer and sewing courses. Salesian missionaries also offer various football and volleyball tournaments and a new basketball court where every afternoon many young people play. The installation of a new water fountain is enjoyed by both youth from the hostel and the children from the morning kindergarten.
Father Filippo Perin, who works at the Salesian mission in Pugnido, says that the present situation provides many reasons for hope, but also many difficulties.
“Although recently the situation here in Ethiopia has improved, many refugees continue to arrive from neighboring South Sudan for assistance in the refugee camps in the region of Gambella, because in their homeland they have not grown anything in the rainy season and now in the dry season they have nothing to eat. Currently the situation is such that in the Gambella region there are more refugees than indigenous inhabitants,” says Fr. Perin.
The Salesian mission in Pugnido also includes 10 outreach stations and a few chapels inside the refugee camp that provide assistance, education, pastoral care and social development services. The goal is ensure that youth have their most basic needs met so they are able to focus on gaining an education and the skills needed to find and retain stable employment.
Since 2006, the Salesian Pugnido mission has grown and developed to better meet the needs of the growing refugee population and those living in the surrounding area. The camp is home to some 60,000 refugees, the majority of whom are escaping violence and conflict within South Sudan.
Ethiopia is also one of the poorest countries in the world with more than 38 percent of its population living in poverty, according to Feed the Future. Close to 85 percent of the country’s workforce is employed in agriculture but frequent droughts severely affect the agricultural economy leaving more than 12 million people chronically, or at least periodically, food insecure. In addition, more than two-thirds of the population is illiterate.
The country has 4 million orphans which account for nearly 12 percent of all children, and according to UNICEF, more than half a million of these were orphaned as a result of the HIV/AIDS crisis that has affected the country. Thousands more children run away each year seeking a better life on the streets.
UNICEF – Ethiopia