Spain – “First the last”: campaign by a Salesian institute in Valencia for girls saved from prostitution in Sierra Leone

The campaign of the “San Juan Bosco” Salesian Institute in Valencia, “First the Last”, has mobilized the entire educational community; its aim: helping girls forced into prostitution that the Salesians of Sierra Leone take off the streets. Awareness-raising courses, screening of the “Love” film documentary of the Salesian Mission Office in Madrid, designing and selling solidarity bracelets, letters to encourage these girls and even the recording of a video that the protagonists have already seen in Freetown, Sierra Leone, are all part of this successful initiative that not only raised money, but above all brought messages of support, empathy and solidarity to the girls of Sierra Leone.

From mid-October the Salesian Institute in Valencia developed the campaign: “First the last”. The school prepared all the activities with great enthusiasm, thinking of the project’s beneficiaries: the girls from Freetown.

The campaign started with courses (tutorials) aimed at high school students who, in many cases, already knew the documentary “Love”, having seen it when it was presented at the school last April. Secondary school students participated in the design of the solidarity bracelets for the campaign.

On 21 October, World Mission Day, the project was also presented at the Mass of the Family and in the Salesian house where everyone was able to collaborate by buying the bracelet with the words “Primero las últimas – #LOVE?””. The final proceeds of the sale of the bracelets – almost 1,200 euros – will go entirely to the recovery project for the girls of Sierra Leone.

But the campaign has continued to grow in the English courses; third and fourth year secondary students have done their part in the field to help and offer psycho-social support necessary for Sierra Leone girls, writing several letters in English for the girls of the “Girls Shelter+” program of Don Bosco Fambul in Freetown, with messages of hope of support and encouragement that have already reached their addressees.

The campaign coordination team also created a 3D murales at the entrance to the school and the students recorded a video with background images of the “Love” documentary.

And the awareness and help from the school do not end here; the whole educational community intends to organize a musical for next April and to allocate all the proceeds to the project in favor of minors in prostitution in Sierra Leone.

Sierra Leone – Joe will distribute your letters to street children

 A few days ago a Salesian school was invited to write letters to the girls and boys of Sierra Leone. The problem  was: but who will bring these letters and greetings? Today we’d like to introduce you to one of the postmen who will deliver the letters to the children of “Don Bosco Fambul” on your behalf. His name is Joe Conteh, and in the past he was a street kid. Today he coordinates the “Child Care Center” and is like a father to the 50 children who enter the center every nine months, to receive help with, among other things, being reunited with their families.

As it is for thousands of African boys, Joe’s story begins in a very poor family. “There was not enough money at home to support us all, because we were many,” he says. While suffering from poverty with his parents and siblings, he had the misfortune to make friends with other boys who ended up convincing him that he would be better off without his parents. And he ran away.

When he was already living on the street, Joe realized that life was not as beautiful as he expected. “Every day we had to fight to survive.” They would manage by getting a few small jobs, by begging or stealing. They risked violence, contracted diseases, or were even arrested and sent to prison with adults.

That was his life… until he met the Salesians. “One day a person came from ‘Don Bosco Fambul’. He asked me if I wanted to stay on the street or go home.” Joe did not know whether to trust him, because “people from many organizations came to talk to us, but in the end they would only take a few pictures and then they left.”


They came to meet him twice more, until Joe decided to visit the center. And when he saw it, he decided to stay. “At that time there were many of us, 72.” In his case, it was not possible to go back to his parents. “We spent ten months there, and then we were asked if we wanted to continue studying at school or doing vocational training. Whatever we chose, they would help us for another two years.” So Joe opted for vocational training. “I prepared myself for 18 months at the end of which they gave me the tools necessary to start working. I graduated on June 22, 2002,” he remembers with pride.

His big dream is that street children “have a better future. Living in this country is not easy. But I tell you that being here is a great opportunity and that we need to work together to become free citizens, responsible and friends of God. Every day I pray for them.”

Liberia – New scientific laboratory at “Mary Help of Christians” school

Thanks to the generosity of many benefactors, the Salesians in Liberia can now equip a new scientific laboratory and expand the academic courses and fields being offered, so as to welcome new students into the “Mary Help of Christians” school in the Matadi district of Monrovia, capital of Liberia. In this way the center managed by the Salesians can continue to extend the structures and services offered to the needy population.

The “Mary Help of Christians” school started operating in 1993 and currently hosts almost 600 students, from children to secondary school students. It provides education and support for children and adolescents who otherwise would have very few opportunities to improve their lives. At the school the Salesians have also developed a food program that guarantees a nutritious meal a day to over 100 students.

The country is still in the phase of recovery from the Ebola epidemic that between 2014 and 2016 struck circa 11,000 people and left over 4,800 dead. Liberia has been the country where the disease has manifested itself in the most lethal form, why the Salesians dedicate themselves with great effort to the children left orphans: to provide them with ongoing care and to ensure that they also do not lose educational opportunities.

Other Salesian programs launched in recent years provide food, health care and education to children with the ultimate goal of reintegrating them into their families.

The Ebola disease, which arrived when the country was trying to recover from two consecutive civil wars being waged since 2003, plunged the country into a serious economic and social crisis, which brought it back to levels of extreme poverty.

With a population of less than 5 million inhabitants, 64% of Liberians currently live below the poverty line and 1.3 million of them live in extreme poverty. For this reason, Salesian programs in Liberia offer young people the opportunity to reach their potential through educational and social projects. In recent years, accompanied by Salesian volunteers and Catholic schools, the spiritual Sons of Don Bosco have been able to help over 2,300 students with their families.

In addition to the “Mary Help of Christians” school, the “Don Bosco” Youth Center is also active in Monrovia, which supports young people with extracurricular and leisure activities. Young people can participate daily in recreational and sports activities and attend workshops of singing, dance, theater, circus …

They can also complete their formation through the vocational training courses, among which there are specific fields for girls and women, so that they can become self-sufficient and be entrepreneurs.

Liberia – A vocational project in the Salesian style

After 15 years of civil war, and then hit by an epidemic of Ebola that claimed thousands of victims, has left Liberia an extremely poor country. The data are merciless: 63.8% of Liberians live below the poverty line; life expectancy is only 63.3 years; a quarter of the population (about 4.6 million) has no access to drinking water and only 16.9% have adequate health services. Just over half of the inhabitants are illiterate. To foster a positive reaction in the face of many and such problems, the Salesians focus on Vocational Training.

Back in 1991, in the middle of the civil war, the Salesians built the “Don Bosco Technical High School” in Monrovia, the capital. It is a school that provides primary, middle and high school education and is currently considered one of the best high schools in the city and in all of Liberia.

Now the Sons of Don Bosco in Liberia want to start a new department of vocational training for electrotechnicians. A course that is open in the afternoon to high school students to offer an integration to their educational path; and in the morning to young workers to help them obtain a certification of their skills and help implement their capacities according to the demands of the world of work.

The initiative includes the renovation of an existing space in the school and its transformation into a workshop, and to open it annually to 90 high school students and 30 uncertified electricians.

The project aims to respond to the needs of the labor market while at the same time aligning itself with the national policy on technical and vocational training. The aim is to position the proposed activities as a model for the future development of its axis of intervention.

Liberia – A unique experience! Too bad it didn’t last long!

Liberia and Sierra Leone represent the corner of Africa where tropical rains are abundant. In tropical West Africa, the most rainy season starts in April and ends in November, but this year it began much earlier …

At Tappita – where the Salesians have recently reactivated a mission – people live on agriculture and the rhythm of the seasons and the rainfall decide on the harvest’s quality and quantity. The rains also bring less pleasant side effects, especially in the field of health, housing and transport. In some moments one has the impression that life stops … but no! Life goes on, the struggle gets harder, but one doesn’t give up.

In Italy there is the “Estate Ragazzi”; in Liberia and Sierra Leone, the “Holiday Camp” is organized for the young. The substance remains the same: with schools closed in July and August, the children have more free time and the camp and its educational tasks keep them away from idleness and from the street.

In truth, the children are never idle in Tappita: even during the school year, as soon as school ends or on Saturdays, the children follow their parents into the countryside, walk around the streets selling bags of water, candies, biscuits … In this way they help to put food on the table – and into their bellies – before going to sleep.

The Salesians on site alternated to illustrate various aspects of the training course for animators, adding the ingredients necessary to make it meaningful: full-time, from 9.00 to 17.00, including school lunch; school lessons in the most relevant subjects; learning the rudiments of several practical activities, such as computers, drawing, music, dance, baking and preparing desserts, tailoring and sewing; socializing activities: communal games, quiz competitions, dance competitions and drama performances according to the various cultural groups. All activities are framed in a point-scoring scheme for the four teams in which the participants were divided. At the end of the “Holiday Camp”, there are prizes for everyone.

The conclusion is unanimous: “A unique experience! Too bad it did not last long! It should last for the whole two months of the holidays!”

As far as the community life of the Salesians is concerned, the “English-speaking West Africa” Province (AFW) organizes Spiritual Exercises, an opportunity to stop for a moment, pray, reflect and check if things are in order. They characterize moments of fraternity that also cancel the physical distance and the sense of isolation.

At “Don Bosco Fambul” the most vulnerable children

Freetown, Sierra Leone – October 2018 – The Salesian house “Don Bosco Fambul” assists street children in Freetown. Three months ago, an assessment was launched on the condition of the most vulnerable children and a rehabilitation program was initiated by which these children could either be reunited with their natural families, or set forth procedures for adoption.

“Slaves no more. Free to grow.” Race of Saints Charity project 2018

 In Ghana, as in many African countries, child trafficking is a widespread phenomenon. The Salesians try to oppose it through works such as the “Child Protection Center” of Ashaiman. This very center is the beneficiary of the solidarity project of the XI edition of the “Race of Saints”, the sports event that takes place in Rome on November 1, Feast of All Saints, with departure and arrival in front of the Basilica of San Pietro.

In Ghana’s poorest and most isolated villages, many families choose to entrust their children to people who promise to take care of them. From that moment on, many children disappear without a trace. The children with the worst fate are the girls: false documents in hand, they are conducted by criminal groups into the Gulf countries, where they are exploited in humble jobs, often undergoing sexual abuse.

To help them all, the Salesians opened the “Child Protection Center” in Ashaiman in 2014: a shelter for minors between 6 and 17. They are offered a path of rehabilitation and, when possible, family reinstatement.

Through the funds that will be collected during the XI “Corsa dei Santi”, the center’s focus area will be expanded to also include older girls aged between 14 and 20, offering them the possibility for rehabilitation, vocational training and family reunification.

The activity is organized as follows:

  • Contact/welcome 100 girls/young women, victims of trafficking in the country’s slums and borders, personalized research to verify current conditions of each;
  • Reception of 50 girls for 12 months at “Child Protection Center”: for first 3 months, offer a rehabilitation program, followed by vocational training courses in making pastries/baking, beauticians, tailoring/dressmaking, costume jewelry;
  • Research to trace the family of origin and for family reintegration, whenever possible;
  • Social and psychological accompaniment for the family;
  • Provision of micro-credit to start a small income-generating business;
  • Formation for the family towards supporting their daughter in carrying out her business;
  • Awareness-raising campaigns against trafficking and child exploitation, through distribution informative material and meetings with leaders of Accra market, traditional leaders and beneficiary families.

For more information on the project, please visit: www.missionidonbosco.it

For more information on the sporting event, visit the website: www.corsadeisanti.it

Sierra Leone – Orphans, Abused Minors, Street Children, Detainees, Sex-Slaves… The work of the Salesians for Them

Three years ago Sierra Leone was mentioned in the media all over the world as the country where people died of Ebola. “The truth – the Spanish daily ‘El Mundo’ wrote – is that Sierra Leone is sinking into oblivion and only a smaller number of NGOs remain in the zone”. While media and international organizations seem to have forgotten, Salesians did not leave any room to oblivion, abandonment and despair. The Salesian Mission Procure of Madrid and the Sons of Don Bosco continue to help and work to secure a future to children and young people.

by Alberto López

The members of the Salesian Mission Procure of Madrid returned to Sierra Leone, two years after the end of the Ebola epidemic that killed thousands of people and left many orphans. Now the objective is to prove that today more than ever an aid is important and necessary and that the work of the Salesians is more intense just because of the halt the country is suffering from. What was said is true: Sierra Leone lives on!

This is a country where those who reach 50 years of age are considered survivors, elderly, with a low life expectancy. It is a country where a cruel civil war left its mark on several generations. It is a country where 75% of the population is below 25 years of age.

However, Salesians have not lost faith, nor hope, nor even less love for their neighbour: poor and vulnerable young people.

With the sole aim of providing visibility to the missionary commitment and the frontier work among vulnerable young people, a documentary film is being prepared on the work the Salesians do for vulnerable children and young girls, for those who are detained in jails for grown-ups in Pademba Road with no one objecting for this nor doing anything for them, and for minors who are victims of prostitution in the streets.

The Salesians accompany all these boys and girls, providing them sanitary assistance and the possibility of studying, guaranteeing all their rights and to help them regain their freedom.

Africa grabs you, and we want to try and narrate whatever to the superficial eyes of the developed world is considered poverty and misery, but which encloses great lessons ofresilience, hope and humanity, even though in many cases these are truly difficult situations”.

Lamín, the young man who is ashamed of his scars, but wants to become a saint

 Lamín is a 21 year-old youth who lives at the Salesian house and NGO known as “Don Bosco Fambul”, which takes in so many street kids who can begin a new life in a familiar and loving setting. One day he came into the Rector’s office and, quite upset, came straight to the point: he was worried about the scars on his scalp, arms, his tattoos. They constantly reminded him and people around him of his shameful and ignominious past.

Having lost both his parents, Lamín lived on the streets of Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone, since a young child, learning to survive by using his wits and strength, first begging then stealing. He experienced everything during that time: alcohol, marijuana, cocaine and sex with prostitutes. He spent two years in Pademba prison and when he came out he approached Don Bosco Fambul asking for help. However, “the street” was stronger and he relapsed.

Since it was his second time, when they arrested him he was “marked”, as is the custom in Sierra Leone. Thanks be to God they did not break his arms or fingers, but he was cut with a machete on his head, arms, and so he would limp for the rest of his life, they cut his Achille’s tendon.

The scars were meant to label him for the rest of his life: “Captured thief”.  Lamín had reached rock bottom and was aware of it; so, once he did recognise it, he began his journey of recovery, rehabilitation and healing.

The Rector of Don Bosco Fambul told him that his glory lay in those scars and that he should not be ashamed of them. He ought not hide them. “They show, together with your ability for rehabilitation, that there are always second opportunities in life and it does not matter how low you have fallen.”

His life is an example of how to overcome limits: he is finishing secondary school and would like to study social work so he can help street kids in the future. “I would like to become a saint!” he says today. His determination has surprised even Fr Jorge Crisafulli, the Rector of Don Bosco Fambul: his ideal have finally enlightened his past filled with suffering and his life has taken a new direction and new meaning.

When a journalist asked Nelson Mandela if he thought himself to be a contemporary saint, he replied: “If a saint is a sinner who keeps trying, who never throws in the sponge, then yes, I am a saint.” Lamín keeps trying!

Michal Klučka: from the heart of Europe to Africa, in Don Bosco’s footsteps

Michal Klučka is a young Salesian in formation, originally from Bratislava, Slovakia, but belonging to the Austria Province. However, he is not currently present in any of the two Central European countries, because he is completing a year of formation in Tatale, Ghana, where he collaborates in the pastoral care of the Salesian school and oratory.

A year ago he did not even know where Tatale was. Then his Provincial, Fr Petrus Obermüller, informed him about the options for internship: and in the end the choice fell on Tatale, in the North East of the African country, where Michal arrived two months ago.

For the young Salesian there are many new things in Tatale: for example the roads, so different from the European ones, and the scarcity of water and the great heat, all things that he is not used to at all. Yet Michal observes: “the people here are very friendly.” And he feels motivated to give his best among the youth of the oratory, in the formation of the animators and in the new evangelization.

“To help people, young people, so that they can grow according to their possibilities, gives me hope and strengthens me. I would like to be part of the change I wish to see in the world,” he reveals, a true spiritual Son of that great dreamer that Don Bosco was.

Still quite young with his well-worn 33-years, in Ghana he puts his talents among the boys to good use: he teaches them math and wins their confidence and friendship with music, playing the guitar and singing. With his being sincere and open, it is not difficult for him to get close to people. In addition, he is strongly motivated and makes Don Bosco’s motto his own: “For the young I learn, for them I work and I live.”

To make his testimony even more effective and known, he has also started a blog where he shares his reflections and, above all, the experiences he has with the young people of Tatale, youths such as Thompson, Joachim, Seth, and many others still.