As a young Salesian cleric Sergej Goman from Belarus volunteered for Project Africa. He was welcomed by the late Fr Michael Ross to the DeSales Language School in Maynooth in June 2000 to learn English. He became reasonably proficient in the language and by September 2001 was on his way to Ghana.

After studies in Kenya, Sergej was ordained a priest in 2008 and was then appointed to the Oratory in Lungi (Sierra Leone) where he laboured for the next seven years.

Sierra Leone is one of the poorest countries on earth. More than 60 percent of the population live on less than €1.06 per day. Thirteen years of war and the Ebola epidemic wreaked havoc on the country. More than 500,000 people were displaced and more than 60,000 children orphaned and left homeless. The Salesians arrived in Freetown in 1994 and had set themselves to witness God’s love for the country’s young people by developing the various works typical of Don Bosco’s spirit — shelters for street children, schools, youth centres and parishes.

Two years ago Fr Sergej was put in charge of the Youth Centre in Dwarzak Parish in Freetown. The challenge was to safeguard young people by tackling those risk factors that push so many of the most vulnerable children onto the streets each year.

Young people, especially, face significant challenges in accessing education: with too few teachers, and school buildings destroyed in the war, resources are thin. And persistently high illiteracy rates mean that an estimated 70 percent of Sierra Leone’s young adults are out of work or under-employed. Many families are single-parent households, with children on their own most of the day as their parent struggles to provide for the family out of what meagre income he or she may scrape together.

Many children and young people live on the streets and are prone to involvement in gangs, theft, begging or prostitution. Addiction to alcohol, tramadol, or marijuana is common and the devastation brought by the recent Corona virus is widespread among the city’s street youth.

Girls and young women are especially vulnerable. Close to 200,000 young girls and older women were sexually assaulted during the decade-long civil war, according to aid agencies.

The Dwarzak Centre offers these young people a space in which to enjoy leisure and sports, get help with schoolwork, a meal, and personal and spiritual accompaniment in a safe and healthy environment, which is otherwise non-existent in the city of Freetown. Salesians promote an attitude of service in the children, teenagers and youth, helping them to become true witnesses of the values they embrace and preparing them to be honest citizens and good, God-fearing people through Christian formation.

Each day 50-100 children between the ages of 7 and 18 (boys-girls) participate in regular recreational, educational and spiritual activities in the Youth Centre. 50 youth receive nutritional assistance three times a week and 80 children receive educational and spiritual assistance at the youth centre six days a week. These activities promote an enriched environment where youth feel secure and free.

Additional activities hosted by the Don Bosco Youth Centre include table tennis, educational films, storytelling events, spelling and quiz competitions, and brass band, keyboard and singing instruction. The Youth Centre also organises sports programming six days a week with soccer and basketball training, friendly matches in Lungi and Freetown, and league competitions. The Salesian centre also serves as a training and meeting place for animators and educators.

To provide this necessary service for the most needy children and young people in Don Bosco Youth Centre in Dwarzak Fr Sergej and the Salesians need our love, prayers and financial support.

Please donate to “Don Bosco Youth Centre in Dwarzak Parish in Freetown” in Sierra Leone.