Cristiana Noaptes* - Venice
Don Bosco City is a non-profit institution run by the Salesians in Medellín, Colombia, that works to recognize the rights of minors in vulnerable conditions, taking care of the needs of children, adolescents and young people at most risk, while promoting their physical, social and spiritual development through family or community-based assistance.
The community of Salesians that manages the work focuses its service in five areas: the school, work training, the parish, a production company and protection, especially with regard to the "gamines de la calle", the street children who are provided with clothes, food, a bed to sleep in and the possibility of access to education. Those who have left a family behind can reside in the community usually for a period of 18 months, while those who are on their own are offered the possibility of staying as long as necessary. Anyone is free to leave the community at any time.
Crime and war injuries
Don Bosco City is also engaged in a wide-ranging outreach of prevention in the neighborhoods of Medellín in order to curb crime, thanks to the constant support of specialized personnel, dialoguing with families, and the organization of events and oversight over schooling.
In addition to housing children and young people in vulnerable circumstances, the Don Bosco City community also aims to help former "guerrilla" fighters on a path to reintegration, those who used to belong to armed movements that since the 1960s have waged a violent conflict whose effects have not yet completely subsided. Some of them have been fighting since childhood and carry with them psychological problems, war wounds and tropical diseases. In this regard, a recovery program has been created, called "Capre" (Casa de protección especializada) which regards an extremely delicate and demanding type of engagement and involves a large group of professionals: doctors, nurses, dentists, nutritionists, psychologists, social workers and teachers. More than half of the personnel involved in this recovery work come from the "gamines de la calle", the street children. They also take care of minors who work in the mines in Amagá, a town south of Medellín, and who do not have access to schools.
At the end of their studies, Don Bosco City offers these young people paths of reintegration into working society, particularly in the fields of mechanics, electrical engineering, fashion, cooking, logistics, accounting and marketing. Two large companies, 55% of which are supported by the Colombian government, are also part of the projects managed by the Salesian community: one deals with lithography and graphic design, while the other operates in the field of metalworking. These are small businesses that operate in full harmony with what is cited by Pope Francis in his encyclical Laudato si', which underscores that “it is imperative to promote an economy which favours productive diversity and business creativity” (Laudato sì, 129) in order to make use of local resources and place work at the service of the common good, thus supporting people's economic freedom.
The community that manages Don Bosco City has chosen to make the values of care for our common home contained in Laudato si' its own, making it concrete and tangible also for the young people who attend it. "On the land where the community stands," explains Juan Pablo Sandoval, coordinator of projects and institutional development at Don Bosco City, "apart from the various buildings used for hospitality and the school, we have a large area available for cultivation. Thanks to government help, we have planted potatoes, tomatoes, and beans. We have managed to plant 6,500 trees, half of them avocado trees, thanks to which we have reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 25%. We have also started projects aimed at improving the catchment area and the micro water basins scattered throughout the mountains and, in addition to this, we have installed a water treatment plant that allows for more efficient management and less waste. We have also invested in sanitary equipment and other materials, which allow us to save money and reduce water consumption."
The Salesian work in Medellín has also made Laudato si' concrete by developing food security projects with the planting of a number of small gardens that provide the food necessary to feed more than 300 young people every day. Following the guidelines given by the Rector Major of the Salesians at the end of the 28th General Chapter, which among other things invites communities from around the world to invest in renewable energy, a project has been developed in Don Bosco City to heat water using solar panels that allows for a substantial reduction in energy consumption and a significant improvement in the well-being of the many young people who benefit from it.
"In Don Bosco City," explains Robinson Àlvarez, Don Bosco City's environmental management coordinator, "we have developed alliances with supervisory bodies that help us promote an ecological culture with our children and adolescents, directed towards the care and protection of our environmental heritage. We have undertaken many concrete initiatives and campaigns that help our youth to develop activities in favor of our environmental heritage, and we have initiated campaigns for the care of water, the efficient use of natural resources, the protection of our fauna and flora, and the differentiated collection of waste. In this way, we have established a research center for the benefit of our youth and have enabled the creation of an ecological focus."
*Cube Radio - Salesian University Institute of Venice and Verona