A Future Beyond Extreme Poverty in Ethiopia
Culturally and commercially, Addis Ababa is Ethiopia’s shining star: a capital city bustling with outdoor markets, world-class museums and a vibrant diversity. Glistening in almost constant sunshine, this metropolis of nearly 4 million people manages to transcend its construction, congestion and new development to reflect the colorful optimism of its English name, “New Flower.” And yet there’s a dark side—as Brother Donato Galetta well knows.
The shadows begin at the city’s outskirts, where its poorest residents live in slum-like conditions choked by the stench of rotting garbage. Despite the government’s efforts to reduce poverty, one out of three Ethiopians still struggle, and thousands of orphaned and abandoned children seek better lives on the streets. Many of them end up in Mekanisa, located at the foot of Addis Ababa’s largest dump.
“Life is harsh for these children,” says Father Gus Baek, director of Salesian Missions. “They are hungry. They are sick. On top of that, they lack the ability necessary to find or use resources to support themselves. Our missionaries established the Don Bosco Center in Mekanisa in an effort to help these kids thrive.”
The Don Bosco Center welcomes children, ages 2 to 15, who are living on the streets or whose parents cannot adequately afford to care for them. At the moment, close to 400 girls and boys participate in programs centered on nutrition, health and education.
Bro. Donato has been running the food program in Mekanisa for the past 18 years. Every day, each child receives a hot lunch. Orphans and others who live at the center—about ten percent of the children—also receive dinner.
“As the person in charge of the center, I try to make sure the children have a place to mature and enjoy their free time in safety and serenity,” he says. “This comes from my Salesian heart to be on the side of the poorest and the neediest. The center strives to give children everything they need for their growth.”
Additionally, a small health clinic run by a nurse on staff provides preventive care and treatment for injuries and illness. Bathrooms and showers further help children maintain their cleanliness, well-being and dignity.
Ultimately, when they are ready, girls and boys have the opportunity to attend the on-site primary school, or one of several Salesian-run, off-campus high schools or vocational training schools. In all instances, Salesian missionaries cover full tuition as well as the fees for uniforms, books and school supplies, and transportation.
“Along with nutrition and health, education is the pillar on which the Don Bosco Center is built,” says Bro. Donato. “It is through education that we can ensure these children who come from situations of extreme poverty can look forward to a brighter future.”
Perhaps for many of them, that future will begin with a decent job in the shining city just up the road.
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