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MEXICO: Programs serve 30,000 migrants and poor youth each month

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The Salesian Tijuana Project provides for the needs of 30,000 migrants and poor youth each month

The Salesian Tijuana Project has been providing services to migrants and poor youth living on the border between Mexico and the U.S. for 34 years. The Salesian organization is divided into eight programs including five oratories, two educational institutions and a public meal program, known as the Salesian Padre Chava Refectory. Salesian services are located in the city’s most vulnerable and high-conflict areas. Every month, 30,000 people access food, medical and psychological services, legal advice, sports, cultural activities, and basic education.

The goal of the Salesian Tijuana Project is to create an extensive educational network in areas where poor youth are at risk of social exclusion. The project took shape through Salesian oratories and educational centers where children grow up learning to share faith, culture and sports within their communities.

The Salesian Tijuana Project also acts as a hub for migrants who, besides much-needed material help, are offered a familiar and welcoming environment. They can access haircuts, a change of clothes, a shower, and an opportunity to call and make contact with families. The Salesian center also has a partnership with the Red Cross and local volunteer doctors who offer psychological and medical help and assistance.

During the pandemic, the Salesian Tijuana Project was forced to suspend many of its activities. The Salesian schools provided education online when they could and also enacted safety measures, meeting the protocols set forth by the government. The only program that never closed its door was the Salesian Padre Chava Refectory, which had to make adjustments in its food delivery. The refectory is one of the youngest programs of the Salesian Tijuana Project, but it is among the best known.

A Salesian missionary said, “We are known and appreciated for the service we offer in the community. We provide food, nutrition, medical and psychological services, legal advice, and we also offer a hospitality service for men. We serve migrants, deportees, people in street situations, entire families and the elderly. For years we have seen many people suffer from the lack of opportunities, and during the pandemic, the population in difficulty has increased.”

At the beginning of the pandemic, services were limited to the delivery of food and medical service. Claudia Portela, coordinator of the refectory, remembers that one morning she had to go out and tell those waiting for services that from that moment, the method of access and administration would be different. People would have to queue, and before entering they had to wash their hands, put on antibacterial gel and then collect the food in several stages.

The pandemic caused difficulty for the organization. Donations dropped, volunteers who ensured services decreased for fear of being infected, and just when the Salesian Tijuana Project could barely provide for 800 people each day, the need swelled to more than 2,000 a day.

Faced with this situation, Salesian missionaries opted to network, turning to governmental and nongovernmental institutions. A Salesian missionary noted, “For example, at the municipal level, we have coordinated with many shelters to buy products at the supermarket. At the state level, the Secretariat for Development gave us food, the mayor’s wife sent burritos, and organizations such as the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), the International Organization for Migration, and Amnesty International, as well as many benefactors, have given us great support.”

After more than a year of pandemic, the Salesian Tijuana Project is beginning to reset. One of the project managers said, “We are worried about our schools, children and young people who have stopped studying due to lack of resources, but the refectory continues to work. Little by little we are adding other services that we used to provide such as hair-cutting.”