Partner in the spotlight: VIA Don Bosco - education is the universal driver

A future for underprivileged youth

Don Bosco schools can be found all over the world. They work according to the pedagogical project designed by Italian priest, philosopher and educator Giovanni Bosco, who found his calling in the 19th century in the betterment and education of young criminals and ex- convicts in Turin. He offered them shelter and education and helped them find work.

 
Don Bosco founded his own congregation, the Salesians, named after his inspiration, Francis de Sales. The Salesians of Don Bosco now provide schooling and training in more than 100 countries. VIA Don Bosco is the Belgian NGO arm of this organization and supports Don Bosco institutions in 10 countries in Africa and Latin America, still based on the same concept: providing technical and vocational training to vulnerable youth, but also ensuring that they find their way to decent work. VIA Don Bosco is also one of Entrepreneurs for Entrepreneurs’ eight partner NGOs.
 

No development works

 
VIA Don Bosco does not have any Belgian development workers locally, but works with local partner organizations via the international network of the Salesians. “They do the planning and coordination, manage the centers for professional training and the employment agencies”, Kaat Torfs explains. The local congregation also decides who their target group is. It always involves disadvantaged youngsters, but in Bolivia, Ecuador or Lubumbashi in Congo it focuses on street children, and in El Salvador on youth gangs or the so-called ‘maras’. These are large gangs of youngsters, often more than 1000 members, who are at daggers drawn with each other. Dozens of them die every day. “We try to interest them in our training courses in IT, for example, because they often are actually looking for an alternative to the life of violence, drugs and gun trade.”
 
“We try to interest them in our training courses in IT, for example, because they often are actually looking for an alternative to the life of violence, drugs and gun trade.”
 

Coaching to find work

 
The Don Bosco institutions offer career-oriented training, but also offer coaching on completion. “We established local employment agencies for that purpose. There they learn to prepare for a job interview, how they should conduct themselves and what their rights and obligations are at work. We also try to guide them towards becoming entrepreneurs”, says Kaat Torfs. VIA Don Bosco does not directly provide access to micro-financing to starters, but looks for organizations on their behalf who do give micro-loans, or assists them with their business plan.
 
The approach varies from country to country. In Cuenca in Ecuador, for instance, there is a street children project called ‘Movimiento Juvenil de Emprendedores’, where kids are taught from a young age to save, even if it is only one dollar a month. Once they turn 18 and leave the center, they have at least learned to put something aside and they also have a small bit of start-up capital. Of the 450 who graduated this year, 140 set up an entrepreneurial venture with their own project.
 

Focusing more on women

 
VIA Don Bosco would like to convince more girls to enter traditionally male dominated fields, such as electrical engineering and electronics. “We do specific campaigns for that, like pictures in a brochure of women who are working on a car, for example, and we actively search for apprenticeships for women. I regularly pay businesses in our partner countries a visit and employers are now wildly enthusiastic about their female employees after initial resistance to the idea.” A number of training courses have proven to be equally popular among boys and girls, such as developing apps, telesales or web design.
 

European quality label

 
The right to education and decent work for everyone are two of the Sustainable Development Goals, which are the UN’s new objectives for development. “We are very pleased about the new SDGs”, says Kaat. “They actually underwrite our own philosophy, because no matter the objective, education is always the crux.”
 

VIA Don Bosco would like to convince more girls to enter traditionally male dominated fields, such as electrical engineering and electronics.

 
 
That doesn’t mean that they are treading water at VIA Don Bosco. An evaluation is done in each of these 10 countries every year, and that is very educational. Many experiences are exchanged, for example how teacher training has been improved in one place, or how young entrepreneurs are helped in other locations. This has given VIA Don Bosco the right to bear the EFQM label (European Foundation for Quality Management), the first NGO to achieve that.
 
Frieda Van Wijck