(MissionNewswire) Salesian missionaries at the Don Bosco Vocational Training Center in the Palabek Refugee Resettlement Camp in Uganda launched the "Facial masks for refugees and host community" project on July 8. Since that time refugees have made and distributed more than 24,000 masks, earning praise and recognition from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The camp currently houses 56,000 people.
Salesians, alongside refugees in the camp, have been engaged in coronavirus prevention efforts since the start of the pandemic. Don Bosco Technical School was launched in Palabek in Jan. 2019. Despite limited material resources, some young volunteers from the sewing workshop began to make masks.
In the first months of the pandemic alone, more than 10,000 masks were distributed to the refugee population and administrative staff of the settlement. Uganda's minister for refugees, Hilary Onek, visited the settlement in July and praised the Salesian project. She said, "The Don Bosco Center was very innovative and a pioneer in the production of masks not only in the settlement, but throughout the nation."
Salesian missionaries also distributed seeds for farming, hygiene products and clothing. Father Ubaldino Andrade, Salesian at Palabek, said, "We had to start almost from scratch in Palabek." Authorities in the settlement are working with Salesians to launch new income-generating activities for refugees. Success in manufacturing face masks for the refugee community could be the first step toward making uniforms for schools and other agricultural activities.
Even before COVID-19, living conditions in Palabek were not easy. Food distribution was scarce and there were difficulties in accessing drinking water. With the arrival of the pandemic, everything has become even more complicated. The amount of food delivered to refugees once a month has been reduced by 30 percent, classes and activities were suspended, and episodes of violence, alcoholism and teenage pregnancies began. The UNHCR warns that unless urgent action is taken to address the situation, levels of acute malnutrition, stunting and anemia are expected to rise, especially among children.
In addition to providing food directly, Salesian missionaries are working to counter the food shortage through the cultivation of food including cereals, vegetables, and if possible, some cash crops such as sim sim, groundnuts and sunflower. The goal is to promote kitchen gardens of vegetables and fruits, hire land from the local Ugandans, and create agreements to work together with the host community. Salesians have provided several hundred kilos of maize, beans, soya beans, sim sim, groundnuts and many assorted vegetable seeds. They have also provided tons of cassava cuttings.
Salesian missionaries at the settlement are offering much needed psychosocial support and pastoral care for thousands of Christian residents. They also operate four nursery schools that educate more than 1,000 children. In addition, there are over 700 children attending Salesian primary and secondary schools, and more than 700 families are supported by other initiatives. Salesian missionaries also launched a vocational training center to offer life skills and other training to help young refugees prepare for employment.