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Building Persons, Forming Good Citizens

Egypt’s Don Bosco vocational schools invest in the future

by Liam Stack with photographs by Shawn Baldwin

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At the edge of downtown Cairo, the neighborhood of Rod el Farag hugs the slow-moving waters of the Nile. Its crowded, noisy streets pulse with life. Buzzing with activities, residents try to get by for one more day. Cars move sluggishly down the traffic-choked streets, the crowds impervious to the incessant blaring of horns. On the side of the road, men sell fruit and vegetables from makeshift carts. On one, a mountain of deep purple eggplant is piled next to a heap of dusty tomatoes. From another, a man sells freshly roasted sweet potatoes wrapped individually in pages torn from an old mathematics textbook.

Amid Rod el Farag’s workaday rush stands the Don Bosco Institute, its stately facade casting a long shadow over the stream of pedestrians who scurry past. Founded in 1970 by the Salesians of Don Bosco, the school offers its working-class neighbors more than an impressive architectural anchor.

Some 550 young men attend the institute, a vocational high school that provides academic studies and courses in a variety of skilled trades from computer programming to welding. When these students walk through the institute’s doors each day, they find a peaceful refuge from Rod el Farag’s chaotic streets. The elegant structure encloses a massive courtyard, where hundreds of students play soccer or socialize during lunch hour. Wide balconies flank the building, overlooking the courtyard below. When classes resume, the students form orderly lines behind their homeroom teachers and march back to class.

Inside the building, the ceilings are high and the hallways, wide. Classrooms are bright and well equipped, with enough computers and specialized machinery for every student. Class size rarely exceeds 25 students. In addition to core courses in math, physics and engineering, the boys choose from a wide range of electives, which cover subjects as diverse as the physics of music and the intricate operations of the combustion engine.

To ensure students can compete in Egypt’s rapidly changing economy, the school’s three-year curriculum focuses on vocational skills consistently in high demand. Most graduates secure employment in their respective trades upon leaving the institute, an accomplishment in which the whole Don Bosco community takes great pride.

“Almost every day we receive faxes from different mechanical and electrical firms asking us to recommend students for jobs,” said Don Riccio, headmaster. “Within two or three months of graduation, all of our students are working.”

In line with the charism of their founder, St. John Bosco — the Industrial Revolution-era Italian priest who used education to help impoverished children secure a better life — the Salesians believe education should both enrich the mind of the student and also serve as a steppingstone to a better life. In turn, a higher employment rate contributes to society’s overall economic development and benefits all members of society.

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