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ALA_5305

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After 25 years the Salesians are closer 

to the poor youth of Solomon Islands

By 'Il Bollettino Salesiano" (Salesian Bulletin-Italian version)
Article by Kirsten Prestin
Photos by Don Bosco Mission Bonn


Honiara, Solomon Islands, January 2020 -- At the Honiara (Solomon Islands) landfill, huge piles of garbage pile up and the stench seems unbearable. Many families survive by poking around in waste looking for something useful. The children have to help their parents and they don't go to school. The Salesians want to break the cycle of poverty and offer professional training for young people and literacy courses for children.


Families rummage through the trash until late at night. They hope to find something that can turn into money. They live on what others throw away: plastic, metal, bottles, rotten food, paper and cardboard. Every day, families look for recyclable material that they can sell for pennies. Mountains of rubbish have become their home. Fifty families, two hundred and fifty people, live on the edge of the landfill site in Honiara, the capital of the Solomon Islands.


Many inhabitants of the neighboring islands are attracted to the capital. They hope to find you a job and a better life. However, even among the 84,000 residents of the capital, the unemployment rate is high. The Solomon Islands are one of the poorest countries in Oceania. Thousands of people live in makeshift homes, an increasing number of them have no refuge. The suburb Ranadi is located in the eastern part of the capital. Here there is also the city dump, with two slums. “Most families in the Solomon Islands cannot escape the vicious cycle of poverty. Many cannot even cope with the basic needs of daily life or send their children to school, "said Fr Srimal Priyanga Silva, Rector of Don Bosco Henderson Technical Institute in Honiara. The children in turn will be poor and will have no future prospects. "This vicious circle can only be broken by education and good training," said the priest with conviction.


The Don Bosco bus


Children and adolescents should help parents with their work. Most of them never went to school. There is no compulsory education in the Solomon Islands. 30% of children who drop out of primary school cannot read and write. Secondary school kids also have this problem. “Families who live here cannot afford state schools for their children. Only five children who live in Ranadi go to school, "said Fr Srimal. Since the beginning of 2019, Don Bosco has been offering literacy courses for aged children to attend elementary school. They are also taught to count and write. Around seventy children aged between five and fifteen participate. The minibus of the Don Bosco Institute picks them up at the landfill and takes them back after three hours. At school, boys and girls also eat snacks. Almost all children are malnourished and often have wounds or injuries that require treatment. A nurse who works in the institution takes care of them. Many children are sent by parents to contaminated landfills in search of, for example, metal parts that can be resold.


Living in the landfill also has consequences for health: respiratory diseases, skin diseases and dysentery are widespread here. Another challenge is that the Ranadi population has no access to clean water. «The environment is not healthy. There are no toilets. In addition, children swim and bathe in polluted waterways, "explained Fr Srimal with concern. At the beginning of the current year, the Don Bosco center made two water tanks available to Ranadi residents.


Look to the future with courage


"Life is very difficult here. We live in an unhealthy environment,"nsaid eighteen-year-old Philip Samani. The boy dropped out of school after fourth grade. He could neither read nor write. As a child he had to help his parents. Every day he looked for something useful in the trash and sold it for a few cents. He also looked for leftover food, which fed the pigs that the family kept. "When the priests came to our slum and invited us to visit their institute, I felt encouraged. Education is very important! Now I can hope for a better future.


Nineteen-year-old Rose Betty also left school early. After her mother abandoned her, she had to look after her six brothers. All the children had to work together to contribute to the survival of the family. The landfill was their second home. Every day they sifted through the mountains of garbage. «My hope is to be able to find a good job thanks to the training at the Don Bosco Technical Institute. So I can better provide for my family, ”said Rose. The young woman cuts and sews with enthusiasm.


For girls, the situation in landfills is particularly difficult. They marry early and also have children early. Many suffered sexual violence.


Become a skilled worker


At the Don Bosco Henderson Technical Institute over three hundred students attend courses in vehicle construction, information technology, maintenance and assembly of machines. Carpentry courses are also held. In addition, young people can also acquire skills related to tourism. The courses last three years and the third year students are engaged in work placements. Three Daughters of Mary Help of Christians also hold sewing and tailoring courses. "Almost all of our students find a job after finishing their training. The certificate issued by our school helps them to enter the world of work because they have acquired preparation and skills" said Fr Srimal.


Elizabeth Wakena has six children to take care of. Only one of them goes to school. Elizabeth's desire is for everyone to go. "I was not able to go to school and I wish my children had the opportunity," explains the lady, who is also very committed to the community to which she belongs. "I want a better future for my children, far from the garbage, and this result can only be achieved with education".


DON BOSCO IN THE SOLOMON ISLANDS


Since 2000, the Don Bosco Henderson Technical Institute has offered professional training courses to young people between the ages of eighteen and twenty-three. Since the beginning of this year, literacy courses have been added to the educational offer which prepare students to attend a school regularly.


The Daughters of Mary Help of Christians have been engaged in the Solomon Islands since January 2007. In 2010 they opened a boarding house for girls in Henderson. The structure is located in front of the Don Bosco Technical Institute and hosts thirty-six girls aged between sixteen and twenty years.


Related news:

  • ANS 13 August, 2019
  • News article: "Il Bollettino Salesiano" (Italian version - issue of January 2020)


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