Sierra Leone

SIERRA LEONE: At-risk youth participate in safe, healthy activities

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Don Bosco Youth Center provides support to up to 100 at-risk youth each day

(MissionNewswire) Don Bosco Youth Center, part of the Dwarzak Parish in Freetown, Sierra Leone, offers youth a space to enjoy leisure and sports, get help with schoolwork, have a nutritious meal, and find personal and spiritual support in a safe and healthy environment. Salesian missionaries also promote an attitude of service and teach children and older youth the importance of giving back to their families and community.

Thousands of minors roam the streets of Freetown every day. They don't go to school because they are orphans or have been kicked out or ran away from home and survive by grouping into gangs. In many cases, they come from large families where there was not enough food or space for everyone. Girls and young women are particularly vulnerable on the streets.

Father Sergej Goman is a Salesian missionary from Belarus. In his 40s now, he has spent most of his religious life in West Africa. In Sierra Leone, he dedicated himself to street children and Ebola orphans. For the past three years, he has been in charge of the Don Bosco Youth Center in Dwarzak and has become a father figure for dozens of abandoned or at-risk youth.

Each day up to 100 children, between the ages of 7-18, participate in recreational, educational and spiritual activities. More than 50 youth receive nutritional assistance three times a week, and 80 children receive educational and spiritual assistance six days a week. These activities promote an enriched environment where youth feel secure and free.

The center also organizes sports programming six days a week with soccer and basketball training, friendly matches in Lungi and Freetown, and championship races. Other programming includes table tennis, educational films, performances and quizzes, the music band, and music courses.

"The activities and support provided at Don Bosco Youth Center decrease the risks for vulnerable youth who might otherwise lead dangerous lives on the streets," said Father Gus Baek, director of Salesian Missions, the U.S. development arm of the Salesians of Don Bosco. "This serves as unique space for youth who lack connection to adults, academic assistance and access to safe places for play."

Salesian missionaries have been serving in Sierra Leone since 2001 when they began working to rehabilitate former child soldiers through the organization Don Bosco Fambul. In the years since, Don Bosco Fambul, located in Freetown, has become one of the country's leading child welfare organizations---offering food, clothing, crisis intervention services, shelter, educational opportunities, long-term counseling and family reunification.