By Salesian Missions
Programs in Cambodia, El Salvador, Mali, and Sierra Leone illustrate the work of Salesians that support this year’s theme, which is focused on building a gender-balanced world.
Salesian Missions joins the United Nations and the international community in celebrating International Women’s Day celebrated each year on March 8. The day celebrates the economic, political, and social achievements of women around the globe while focusing the world’s attention on areas requiring further action.
Each year, International Women’s Day focuses on a theme. This year’s theme is, #BalanceforBetter, which focuses on building a gender-balanced world. The campaign website indicates that achieving balance is not a women’s issue alone. It is also a business issue and includes achieving balance in the boardroom, in government, in media coverage, in sports, and in acquiring wealth. The theme for 2019 which will run all year, notes that gender balance is essential for economies and communities to thrive.
Salesian missionaries living and working in more than 130 countries around the globe are focused on achieving gender equality through programs targeted specifically for young women and girls. These programs strive to empower young women and girls by providing opportunities for education and training that lead to livable wage employment.
“There are many barriers to education for young women and girls, but Salesian programs around the globe work to eliminate those barriers and provide education and skills training to all,” says Father Mark Hyde, director of Salesian Missions, the U.S. development arm of the Salesians of Don Bosco. “Salesian missionaries have seen that young women who are able to access education are more often able to achieve financial independence and make better and healthier choices that affect not only themselves but their families and communities as well.”
In honor of International Women’s Day, Salesian Missions is proud to share some of its programs around the globe that empower young women and girls.
Don Bosco Technical School Kep/Hatrans, located in southern Cambodia, made changes to its school buildings and dormitories to ensure they are accessible for students with physical disabilities thanks to a grant provided to Salesian Missions from the Office of American Schools and Hospitals Abroad (ASHA) at USAID. The technical school also received funding to aid in the construction from Don Bosco Bonn and the Sawasdee Foundation.
With the USAID funding, in 2015 Don Bosco Kep made modifications to the school, including the installation of a solar-powered elevator with a walkway between two buildings, in order to reach four floors in the main building, and the construction of ramps to access areas for community gatherings. The funding also allowed for the outfitting of three bathrooms with accessible facilities.
Young women with physical disabilities in rural Cambodia are at high risk of living in poverty. The investment by USAID in Don Bosco Kep provides opportunities to numerous students who are ethnically and economically disadvantaged. The positive impacts are disproportionately felt by young women with physical disabilities who otherwise would be unable to access education and achieve self-sufficiency as a result. Valuing diversity, gender equality and education for all is a primary goal of Don Bosco Tech and Salesian education across the globe.
The Salesian-run Don Bosco University, located in San Salvador, El Salvador, works to provide opportunities for advanced education and employment for disadvantaged women. The university is one of the most prestigious institutions of higher education in the country, particularly in the technical and technological sector. In previous years, many of the science and technology programs were attended by men, but the university’s Program for Women in Science and Engineering (WISE Program) has encouraged more women to enter into science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education.
The university also offers a Science Camp for Girls which is supported through funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and will serve as a long-term project for the school. To date, 123 young women in their last year of high school have participated in the camp.
Young women who have finished school, are convinced they can do well in the technical and scientific fields, and are passionate about this study, are encouraged to enter the program for higher learning. At the end of camp, scholarships are awarded for students who wish to continue studying in technical-scientific university courses, enabling them to have more opportunities for future employment.
Since 2012, Mali has faced a political and security crisis that has been concentrated mainly in the north of the country. The crisis has now reached the center of the country and is affecting hundreds of people, especially children. As a result of this crisis, the situation in the country has worsened and the population is living in alarming conditions. It has affected access to food, water, health, safety, and means of livelihood. Aware of the current circumstances, Salesian missionaries in Touba have developed a new project for the production and sale of soap.
With this initiative, Salesian missionaries and the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians who work with the most vulnerable populations, are offering the opportunity to support local development in an inclusive way and to strengthen the role of women in rural areas. So far, the project has impacted more than 50 girls and young women from the village of Touba. They are being trained in the production of soap and have been able to start a small emporium where they can market and sell what they produce.
The education of girls and young women helps them to improve their economic resources and those of their families. By earning an income, they are able to improve the health, nutrition, and education of their families. In the same space where the soap production and lessons are being held, there is a recreational space. Here, girls and young women meet and share their experiences.
Don Bosco Fambul, one of Sierra Leone’s leading child welfare organizations located in Freetown, has been helping young women caught up in prostitution come in off the streets. Father Jorge Crisafulli launched the program out of Don Bosco Fambul’s Girls Shelter in September 2016 with the aim of searching for girls in their workplaces where they are surrounded by alcohol and drugs and at risk of danger and exploitation. The program offers them shelter, health, nutrition, education, and wherever possible, reintegrates them back into their families.
Close to 200,000 young girls and older women were sexually assaulted during Sierra Leone’s decade-long civil war, according to UNICEF. And although the war has stopped, the sexual violence against women continues. Young women are at risk for sexual violence, trafficking, and forced pregnancy, among other atrocities. Today, one-third of girls are forced into marriage and often sexually assaulted by their husbands before their 15th birthday. In addition, 90 percent of girls are subjected to female genital mutilation. The Girls Shelter, which has been in operation for five years, was developed in response to this crisis.
Salesian missionaries, professional social workers, and pastoral workers provide crisis intervention and follow-up care for girls and young women who have been victims of sexual assault. Girls that access the shelter services are also able to attend educational programs that are a part of the broader Don Bosco Fambul network of programs. These educational programs give young women the skills necessary to find and retain employment.