Italy – From Sicily to Senegal, a bridge of education and solidarity in the name of Don Bosco

06 February 2023

(ANS - Piazza Armerina) - In this year dedicated to the reflection and development of the Salesian Family’s lay dimension, it may be interesting to highlight organizations led by lay people who live the charism of Don Bosco in the field; one is the "Don Bosco 2000" Association. It has embraced and used Don Bosco's preventive system in its daily activities, from welcoming migrants reaching Italy to international cooperation, from experience in prisons to the formation of young people in oratories. "For us, Don Bosco represents the guide for responding pragmatically to the needs of the historical time in which we live, allowing us to identify in young people our privileged addressee, in particular the youngest and neediest," explains Cinzia Vella, Director General of the association.

With this in mind, the oratory of Piazza Armerina, run for years by the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians and, since 2001, a lay structure and a strongly established city presence, the cradle of the association, becomes a promoter of various initiatives and a cooperator of many associations for social work. During the winter there are weekly meetings for young people who are not only users, but themselves promoters and organizers of activities, mainly related to the conception and preparation of the Salesian summer group for the summer season.

The oratory is also a cooperator in initiatives involving social actors of the 21st century. Among others, the youth participated in 2022 in a project of Caritas of Piazza Armerina for the creation of a theatrical performance in collaboration with the Enna "Luigi Bodenza" prison house. The staging of the play brought 26 youths and inmates to the stage; the latter were able to leave the prison on Dec. 14, 2022, to go to Enna's Garibaldi Theater.

But Don Bosco's experience through the Association crossed national borders, and went as far as Veligara Pont, a village in the Tambacounda region of Senegal. It is there, in one of the poorest areas of the world, that there is now a real oratory in the savannah. A project that, after an initial summer experience with volunteer animators, was "the result of a design wanted from above," Cinzia says. "The village chief told us that since we arrived the children were happier, they kept repeating the summer games and dances."

It was a wish that came true thanks to the generosity of Fr. Baldassarre Meli, to whom the oratory is now named. The priest, who died prematurely, was unable to fulfill his dream of going to Africa to see the places of origin of the boys he welcomed, so he decided to donate the proceeds for his funeral to the Veligara Oratory project.

It was an immense joy for the children of Tambacounda who, while waiting for the oratory to come to life, peeled off a Don Bosco sticker from the cooperators' car and stuck it on a tree: "While waiting, we want Don Bosco to stay with us," they explained.

"The oratory is a beautiful thing for us. We do so many things with the children - meetings, gatherings, training. We hold the French and Italian language courses," explained Amara, a cooperator of the association. "Every Saturday and Sunday we have more than fifty children attending the oratory, distribute snacks to the most needy." And that's not all: thanks to the availability of two local volunteer doctors, a dispensary for medical care is active every day.


ANS - “Agenzia iNfo Salesiana” is a on-line almost daily publication, the communication agency of the Salesian Congregation enrolled in the Press Register of the Tibunal of Rome as n 153/2007.

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