Category Archives: Youth

St. Joseph Sisters rescue youths from drug use on Kenya’s Indian Ocean coast

A child sniffs toxic glue from a plastic bottle on the streets of Mombasa, a coastal city in southeastern Kenya on the Indian Ocean. The high rate of youths using drugs has visibly affected their lives and the safety of the region. (GSR photo/Doreen Ajiambo)

Mombasa, Kenya — As he looks forward to his university graduation ceremony late this year, 27-year-old Caleb Kanja can’t forget his arduous journey toward his success.

In 2001, he was rescued from the streets of this coastal city in southeastern Kenya along the Indian Ocean by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Mombasa when he was using drugs, especially glue, cannabis, cocaine and heroin.

“I used every kind of drug to make me go high, and I could not fear anything while on the street,” said Kanja, thanking the sisters for rescuing him from drugs and taking him to school. “The sisters helped me to be who I am today. Life was difficult on the street, and I would today be like other youths whose lives have been affected because of drugs.”

Kanja, who is pursuing economics at a local university in Kenya, said he began using drugs at a tender age due to peer pressure after his mother died and left him with his uncaring father.

“I began using drugs as any other child would do in this region,” he said, adding that his father was always drunk and couldn’t guide him. “I ended up on the street and in dens where the addicts hide to use drugs. I used to beg for money so that I could buy glue, which is cheaper compared to other drugs.”

He is among thousands of youths whom the nuns have rescued from using drugs in the coastal region. With help from volunteers, the sisters find dazed youths in abandoned buildings and shanties dotting the shores of the Indian Ocean. They take them to the Grandsons of Abraham, a rescue center that works with the community to find, rehabilitate and educate youths to make them better citizens.

The coastal region comprises six counties, which are also names of the region’s main towns — Mombasa, Taita Taveta, Kwale, Kilifi, Lamu and Tana River. These towns are known as tourist destinations globally for their sun and beaches. But the tourism industry has not yielded job opportunities for many of the region’s youth and young adults. Rather, tourism — and the free flow of drugs to Kenya’s coast — has led to a culture that has trapped primarily boys and young men in a cycle they rarely escape.

The numbers are low for addiction among local girls and women, whose adherence to cultural norms and fear of rejection by society make it unlikely they would end up on the streets.

Findings from the country’s National Authority for the Campaign Against Alcohol and Drug Abuse show that drug use is rife in the coastal regions and visibly affects the lives of youths. The report, which was released in 2016, indicates that 29.3% of coastal region residents at the time were currently using at least one addictive substance, including alcohol. In a county-by-county breakdown, Mombasa led with 34.4% of residents using at least one drug, followed by Lamu with 32%, Tana River 31.1%, Kilifi 29.7%, Kwale 26% and Taita Taveta 20.7%.

The report by the national authority, which is mandated to coordinate a multisectoral effort to prevent, control and mitigate alcohol and drug abuse in Kenya, further explains that 12.6% of residents in the coastal regions are using alcohol, 14.7% tobacco, 12% khat (a popular stimulant plant that is chewed), 4.5% bhang, 2.3% heroin, 1.3% prescription drugs, 0.9% cocaine and 0.4% hashish.

Sr. Jane Frances Kamanthe Malika of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Mombasa believes that the region’s proximity to the seashore makes it a hub for narcotics, especially heroin from Southeast Asia and cocaine from Latin America destined for Europe and North America, as detailed in this 2018 research report, funded by the European Union, on “the heroin coast.”

“The drugs in this region are too available, and the children get them too easily,” Malika said, noting that illicit substances have addicted thousands of youths in the region. “Drugs are sold on every street here, making it easier for the youths to get them. The youths always say that the drugs help them feel high and happy so that they forget about their problems.”

Government struggles

Gilbert Kitiyo, recent Mombasa County commissioner, admits that the number of people using drugs in the coastal region is high. Minors as young as 10-15 have been swept into the drug menace, he said. Kitiyo led a multi-agency security team to smoke out drug barons, midlevel dealers and street sellers. In a recent reshuffling of 24 commissioners, Kitiyo was transferred to an eastern Kenya region away from the coast.

“Drug menace in the coastal region cannot end overnight. It’s a fight that is going on, and we are certain as a government we will end it,” Kitiyo told Global Sisters Report in an interview last month.

Kitiyo blamed the judiciary for the slow pace of the regional war on drugs, saying thousands of cases involving drug trafficking were still pending before the Mombasa courts.

“In Mombasa alone, we make an average arrest of over 1,000 people per year with drug-related offenses, but it’s now upon the judiciary to expedite court cases,” he said, adding that, in most cases, they have provided enough evidence to prosecute the suspects.

Nevertheless, corruption by police and lack of political will have been cited as the main challenges facing the fight against drug abuse in the coastal region. In 2019, for example, a report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime showed how Kenyan government officials were bribed for years by the Akasha family drug empire to shield them from legal consequences for trafficking drugs and even from extradition to the United States to face drug charges.

It took the intervention of U.S. agents of the Drug Enforcement Administration to arrest Ibrahim Akasha and Baktash Akasha, the sons of the drug baron Ibrahim Akasha. The detectives extradited them from Mombasa to New York to face charges for trying to import banned drugs.

The two were later found guilty. In January 2020, Ibrahim was sentenced to 23 years in prison for trafficking heroin and methamphetamine in the U.S. His brother, Baktash, had been sentenced to 25 years in prison in August 2019. Yet, those who aided them in Kenya remain free after authorities failed to charge them in court.

Bloodshot eyes, blemished faces

Along the streets of the coastal towns, gaunt youths can be seen seated on stones in neglected structures and shanties. Most of the youths here are a pale shadow of their former selves. Their blemished faces and skin and bloodshot eyes are the ravaged features that exaggerate their age due to constant drug abuse.

Festus Modali, one of the youths, who rolls up heroin into cigarettes or injects it directly into his veins, said his brother introduced him to drugs. “I can’t live without using drugs. I will die,” he said.

Pure heroin is sold to the youths and schoolchildren on every corner of these coastal region towns. The drug is smoked or snorted, but most addicts prefer injecting.

Sr. Veronica Wanjiru, a doctor who is the medical director at Mother Amadea Mission Hospital in a Mombasa suburb, said people who inject themselves with drugs were most vulnerable to HIV and viral infections such as hepatitis C.

A World Health Organization website says 23-39% of new hepatitis C infections and 10% of new HIV cases are among IV drug users. Other adverse public health consequences from those who inject drugs include risk of transmitting tuberculosis, viral hepatitis B, and several sexually transmitted infections.

Health experts in the coastal region have said that drug abuse and depression are the leading causes of mental illness.

“We have the largest number of people [in the country] with mental illness due to high use of drugs, especially khat and cannabis,” said Dr. Charles Mwangome, a psychiatrist at Port Reitz Sub-County Hospital in Mombasa. “The patients are all over the streets because their families have rejected some, but we are treating and rehabilitating them.”

Recent Mombasa County Commissioner Kitiyo noted that the illicit drug business has contributed to lawlessness in the region, adding that youths were also dropping out of school to concentrate on consuming drugs.

“The youths are not going to school. They are busy on the streets engaging in drugs, and they are a threat to security as some engage in theft and pickpocketing,” he said.

Sisters intervene

However, with the help of social workers, religious sisters are battling to end the drug menace in the coastal region. They believe that victims of drug abuse, especially youths, could still be productive in society if they are helped and rehabilitated.

The Sisters of St. Joseph of Mombasa run Grandsons of Abraham, a rescue center in Mombasa and Kilifi. They rescue addicts from the streets and drug dens and assist them in recovering from addiction before providing them with education and life skills.

Malika, the St. Joseph sister who is leading the fight against drug abuse in the coastal region, visits the dens, abandoned structures, alleys and huts where the addicts hide to smoke, sniff or inject drugs. She talks to the youths about the dangers of drug abuse and its likely consequences.

“I visit those places with social workers twice every week to talk to the boys so that they willingly come to the rescue center,” she said, explaining that they give the boys a chance to decide on coming to the center themselves after persuading them about the dangers caused by substance abuse and the importance of rehabilitation.

“We don’t take them by force from the streets, but we do talk to them and convince them to come on their own,” Malika said. “We believe that if the decision is made by oneself, then it’s from the heart, and it makes it easier for rehabilitation.”

Once off the streets, the youths are given a week to rest before they begin counseling sessions and treatment. The sisters said that those who have been on drugs for a long time or are sick are taken to hospitals for treatment.

“We begin by putting these youths on medication and a healthy diet to try and flush out drugs from their system, a process that takes at least three months,” said Wanjiru, whose hospital works with Grandsons of Abraham to treat drug addicts.

Malika said that after recovery, the youths are made aware of the dangers of using drugs. They provide educational scholarships to the children who are still young and willing to go back to school and complete their education. Those who can’t go back are enrolled in vocational training in farming, welding, plumbing, masonry and computer skills.

“After the child has recovered, we try to trace their families and reintegrate them back. Those who don’t have families stay at our center,” she said, citing challenges with the children they reintegrate into the communities.

“We have come to realize that these youths are rejected again by their families and end up in the streets,” Malika conceded, adding that the sisters will try again in such cases.

The sisters have also been conducting campaigns on drugs and substances across the region’s towns to educate youths on their effects and remind parents of their responsibilities. They also have engaged them in sports such as beach soccer and basketball.

“When youths engage in sports, they become busy and avoid drugs. Most of them are influenced by their peers to engage in drugs because they are idle,” said Malika.

In the meantime, Kanja, the current college student the sisters pulled from the streets of Mombasa, is appealing to well-wishers to continue rescuing drug addicts, as many do not even recall how they began using drugs.

“They are innocent, and they need help,” he said. “They should be assisted so that they can become better people in the society.”

New climate classes seek to teach Indian students green habits

MUMBAI,- Students in Maharashtra will start learning about worsening droughts, floods and storms on a hotter planet, and find out how to map and reduce their carbon footprint under the first climate-change school curriculum introduced by an Indian state.

The lessons in English and Marathi for grade 1 to 8 pupils seek to spark conversations in homes on extreme weather and rising seas, said officials, as efforts ramp up globally to raise awareness that climate change is not a far-off threat.

Better climate education is a key concern for young people, with representatives of the growing youth movement taking centre-stage at the COP26 U.N. climate talks last month to present their demands for a greener, fairer world.

Maharashtra officials said the western Indian state was experiencing extreme rainfall, recurring droughts and cyclones.

About 14 million students in more than 100,000 schools will learn what is fuelling these and other climate shifts, in classes likely to be introduced during the next academic year that starts in June.

“The current curriculum doesn’t cover all this. We want students to understand how climate change is impacting us,” said Sudhakar Bobade, head of Majhi Vasundhara, a state initiative to create awareness on climate change.

“Our aim is to make them understand what they can do to mitigate the impact and create awareness among parents through them,” he said.

The new curriculum will also cover fuels consumed by planes, trains, buses and cars – and help students understand why public transport is the most climate-friendly option, officials said.

The new curriculum of more than 100 lessons will end with “green habits”, aimed at shrinking the carbon footprint of students’ households through behaviour changes such as switching off lights and adopting solar power.

In an October report, the Council on Energy, Environment and Water identified Maharashtra, India’s third largest state, as one of the country’s most climate-vulnerable areas.

The state has over the last year paid out $2 billion in compensation to those impacted by extreme weather, Maharashtra environment minister Aaditya Thackeray said at the COP26 summit.

Yusuf Kabir from the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF in Maharashtra, who helped design the new curriculum, said climate change “is real and we can’t deny it any further”.

“We want students to understand how the lives we lead are dependent on fossil fuels, why solar panels are now being used to boil water in tribal schools, why the Arabian Sea is more turbulent and so on,” Kabir told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.


One in five young people across the world think they can no longer do anything to prevent climate change, a poll by a creative agency showed last month.

Techniques such as advertising campaigns and computer games have been used to better communicate the threat of climate change to the general public.

In India, youth activists believe including global warming in school lessons could help expand much-needed awareness.

Tenth-grade climate activist Ridhima Pandey, 14, said she had not studied climate change in her school in the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand, but had gained an understanding from talking to her parents and reading news publications.

“We don’t discuss climate change or global warming in school. There would be one paragraph on it and the teacher would just skim through,” said Pandey.

She welcomed the new curriculum in Maharashtra but said it needed to teach children knowledge they can use in their lives.

“If they learn in school, the next generation would be more responsible, unlike our older generation. Also they will not have the same attitude as them that has led to so much destruction,” she said.

The Maharashtra curriculum is aiming to get at least some of that right: It includes farm visits to identify crops and how much water they consume, activities such as gauging rainfall and video screenings on rising seas and cyclones.

The lessons will also shine a light on changes being made locally to switch from coal to solar power, as well as on global goals for climate action including the warming targets in the 2015 Paris Agreement, nature protection and air quality.

“If we learn, we will be able to conserve,” said Pandey.

As eco-anxieties mount, Africa’s young people urge action on climate

Young activists gesture as they take part in a demonstration during a global day of action on climate change in Khayelitsha township near Cape Town, South Africa, September 25, 2020. REUTERS/Sumaya Hisham

DURBAN, – As climate change takes a heavy toll on Africa, about two-thirds of the continent’s young people are pushing for bolder policy action or trying to reduce their own carbon footprint, a new survey has found.

From locust infestations in the east to devastating droughts in the south, the impacts of climate change are being felt across the continent, which is responsible for only 3% of global carbon emissions.

Africa has the world’s youngest population – 60% of its 1.25 billion people are aged 25 or younger – and youth activists from Sudan to South Africa were vocal in demanding bigger emissions cuts by rich nations at last month’s U.N. climate talks.

New data compiled from 4,500 face-to-face interviews with 18- to 24-year-olds across the continent by the Ichikowitz Family Foundation, an African charity, shines a light on the concerns of young people in 15 countries.

From Angola to Gabon, Uganda to South Africa, here are some of the main concerns highlighted by the African Youth Survey:


While 70% of Africa’s youth are concerned about climate change, less than half are satisfied with how their leaders are tackling it, the survey found.

Among those polled, 85% said their governments should be more proactive in addressing climate change, led by 99% of Rwandans, 95% of Ethiopians and 95% of Malawians.

Besides wanting bolder policy action, about two-thirds said they actively support, participate in or donate to environmental causes, while 64% are trying to reduce their carbon footprint.

As climate campaigners such as Uganda’s Vanessa Nakate become known in Africa and beyond, the survey shows Africa’s youth want to be “global actors in environmental activism”, said Ineza Umuhoza Grace, founder of Rwandan eco-group Green Fighter.


More than three-quarters of those surveyed said they were concerned that climate change would lead to an increase in infestation and crop destruction from insects such as locusts, with most worry in Ethiopia (91%), Malawi (91%) and Kenya (88%).

East Africa has been battling locust infestations in recent years that have ravaged crops and triggered food insecurity.

Hundreds of millions of locusts swept across Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya last year in what the United Nations called the worst outbreak in a quarter of a century, with Uganda, Eritrea and Djibouti also affected.

Warmer seas have resulted in a rise in the frequency of cyclones in the Indian Ocean, and heavy downpours along the Arabian peninsula have created ideal conditions for locust breeding in the deserts of Oman, Yemen and Saudi Arabia.

It is estimated that a locust swarm of one square km (0.38 square mile) can eat the same amount of food in a day as 35,000 people, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).


About 78% of the young people polled said they were worried about increasing air pollution, with the most concern found among those in countries including Ghana (92%), Ethiopia (89%) and Rwanda (88%).

Air pollution from sources such as vehicle exhaust fumes, industrial emissions, fires and domestic heating and cooking causes the early death of nearly 16,000 Ghanaians each year, the World Bank has said.

Across the continent, such contamination led to about 1.1 million deaths in 2019, according to The Lancet medical journal.


In 2020, about 1.2 million Africans were driven from their homes by floods and storms – more than double the number of people displaced by conflict, according to a World Meteorological Organization (WMO) report.

Even if global warming is kept below 1.5 degrees Celsius, climate experts project that heatwaves in eastern and southern Africa will become more severe.

From floods to cyclones to heatwaves or long cold spells, 72% of young Africans said they were concerned about the increasing frequency and severity of extreme environmental events.

Among young Rwandans, 90% said they were worried about the impact of floods and cyclones.

Over the years, torrential rain and landslides have killed hundreds in Rwanda and disrupted agricultural activities where 90% of the population depend on the land for survival.

Do not let go of joy, Pope Francis urges youth in Mozambique

MozamiqueYouth perform a dance in the Maxaquene Pavilion in Maputo before the arrival of Pope Francis Sept. 5, 2019. Credit: Vatican Press Pool Photo.

.- Pope Francis encouraged young people of different faiths in Mozambique Thursday to not give up in the face of their country’s challenges, but to confront them with joy and hope.

“How do you make your dreams come true? How do you help to solve your country’s problems?” the pope asked Sept. 5, repeating questions asked him by Mozambican young people.

“My words to you are these. Do not let yourselves be robbed of joy. Keep singing and expressing yourselves in fidelity to all the goodness that you have learned from your traditions. Let no one rob you of your joy!”

Pope Francis arrived in Maputo, Mozambique in the evening Sept. 4, kicking off a Sept. 4-10 trip to three countries in sub-Saharan Africa, including the island nations of Madagascar and Mauritius.

The interreligious meeting with youth was held at the Maxaquene Pavilion. Maxaquene is a sports club based in Maputo.

Pope Francis entered the pavilion to joyful cheers, singing, and chants of “reconciliation.” The meeting opened up with a song, followed by musical and dance performances by groups of Christian, Mulim, Hindu, and Catholic youth. The pope’s speech was followed by a prayer.

During the encounter, Pope Francis told the estimated 4,500 young people present that “together, you are the beating heart of this people and all of you have a fundamental role to play in one great creative project: to write a new page of history, a page full of hope, peace and reconciliation.”

“I would like to ask you a question,” he added. “Do you want to write this page? When you were singing you sang the word reconciliation.”

He also told them “God loves you, and this is something on which all our religious traditions are agreed.”

“For him, you have worth; you are not insignificant. You are important to him, for you are the work of his hands and he loves you,” he said.

Quoting Christus vivit, his post-synodal exhortation to young people, Francis said “the love of the Lord has to do more with raising up than knocking down, with reconciling than forbidding, with offering new changes than condemning, the love of God has more to do with the future than the past.”

“I know that you believe in this love that makes reconciliation possible and I thank you.”

The pope warned against resignation and anxiety, which he said are two attitudes fatal to dreams and hope.

“These are great enemies of life, because they usually propel us along an easy but self-defeating path, and the toll they take is high indeed… We pay with our happiness and even with our lives,” he said.

It can be easy to give up when things are painful and difficult and everything seems to be falling apart, but that is not the solution, he continued.

He referenced popular Mozambican soccer player “the Black Panther” Eusébio da Silva.

“He began his athletic career in this city. The severe economic hardships of his family and the premature death of his father did not prevent him from dreaming,” the pope stated. “His passion for football [soccer] made him persevere, keep dreaming and moving forward.”

This led him to score 77 goals for his team, Maxaquene, “despite having plenty of reasons to give up…” Francis noted.

He said being part of a team was an important part of da Silva’s success. On a team, everyone has differences, different gifts, he stated, just like at the meeting today. “We come from different traditions and we may even speak different languages, but this has not stopped us from being here together as a group,” he said.

The pope argued that a lot of suffering is caused by people dividing and separating others, choosing those who can “play” and those who have to sit “on the bench.”

You can do something for your country by staying united, building friendships, and avoiding enmity, he said. He had the young people repeat that “social enmity, social division is destructive.”

“‘An old proverb says: “If you want to get somewhere in a hurry, walk alone; if you want to go far, walk with others.’ We need always to dream together, as you are doing today. Dream with others, never against others.”

“Keep dreaming the way you dreamed and prepared for this meeting: all together and without barriers. This is part of Mozambique’s ‘new page of history,’” he stated.

The pope also encouraged young people not to fear mistakes, but to persevere, and to not let worry make them abandon their dreams.

He used another Mozambican athlete as an example: Olympic champion runner Maria Mutola.

She did not win a gold medal in her first three Olympic Games, the pope noted, but on her fourth attempt, the 800-meter athlete won the gold medal in Sydney. And this did not make her self-absorbed. Despite her Olympic gold medal and her nine world titles, she did not forget her people or her roots, he said.

Pope Francis advised young people to listen to their elders and to stay rooted in their history and tradition, saying the older generations have much to offer.

“Sometimes we older people put you in difficulty, we frighten you. We can try to make you act, speak and live the same way we do. You will have to find your own way, but by listening to and appreciating those who have gone before you,” he said.

Noting the two cyclones which struck Mozambique earlier this year, Pope Francis said there is “a pressing challenge of protecting our common home.”

“Many of you were born at a time of peace, a hard-won peace that was not always easy to achieve and took time to build,” he said. “Peace is a process that you too are called to advance, by being ever ready to reach out to those experiencing hardship.”

“How important it is to learn to offer others a helping and outstretched hand! Try to grow in friendship with those who think differently than you, so that solidarity will increase among you and become the best weapon to change the course of history.”



The Chile school where pupils carry petrol bombs over pencils

ChilePupils have been involved in violent clashes with the police in the capital, Santiago.GETTY IMAGES

“No student throws a Molotov cocktail, just because they feel like it and think that it’s fun,” says Rodrigo Pérez.

The 17-year-old is president of the student association at the Instituto Nacional (National Institute) in Chile’s capital, Santiago. He is talking about the motivation behind his fellow students’ behaviour.

The boys’ state school is one of the country’s most prestigious. It has a stringent selection process and boasts a number of former presidents as alumni.

But over the past few months, the school has hit the headlines less for its academic achievements and more for the action of some of its pupils, who have thrown petrol bombs from the school’s roof and taken over classrooms.

Tear gas and water cannons were used to break up some of the most heated protests.

The school has installed security cameras and police search the bags of pupils as they enter the premises in order to prevent a repeat of the most destructive incidents, which were led by students who hid their identity behind masks.

A handful of other famous boys’ state schools have also taken part in protests, but the Instituto Nacional is the most extreme.

‘Fed up with labels’

“It’s like a pressure cooker which has finally exploded and led them to this kind of violence,” says Rodrigo of those who are protesting.

He may disagree with the methods the masked students are using, but he understands their motivation only too well: “My school reflects the state of education in Chile – a lack of resources and care for the students.”

There are complaints of rat infestations, blocked bathrooms with sewage leaking, cold showers, broken windows, leaking roofs and bullying teachers.

“We have been asking for the last six years for things to change. We are fed up with being labelled as terrorists and delinquents, when all we want is to be heard.” he explains.

The masked students – like many other pupils at the school – want more resources to be pumped into their school, including enough teachers and a reform to the national curriculum, which they say is too old fashioned and does not reflect 21st-Century thinking.

Some pupils think the only way to get people’s attention is to throw petrol bombs and take over classrooms.

Long-running problem

Critics say that the problem of state schools suffering from underfunding dates back to the rule of Gen Augusto Pinochet in the 1970s and 80s when they were put under the control of local authorities, which they accuse of siphoning off the money earmarked for the schools.

Felipe Alessandri, the mayor of the region where the school is located and who is in charge of the school’s finances, rejects this. “Since, I have been mayor, every peso that I have been given has been used for the infrastructure of the school,” he says.

He blames the students for the school’s ill state of repair. “Every time we repair something, the students damage it. We fixed some of the bathrooms over the holidays and by the first afternoon of the new term they had graffiti all over them and were damaged.”

He argues that the troublemakers are a small group of highly politicised students out to cause disruption.

Mayor Alessandri believes tough measures are needed to stop them. “We can’t have students pouring petrol on teachers and throwing bombs. We need to stop them,” he argues.

‘Heavy-handed policy’

His views are shared by the government of right-wing President Sebastián Piñera which has introduced a policy called “Aula Segura” (Safe Classroom) to contain the protests.

Under Aula Segura pupils suspected of taking part in violent protests can be excluded from school with immediate effect, even if their behaviour is still under investigation.

Rodrigo says this new measure – which sometimes results in pupils who have done no wrong being suspended – is heavy handed and has further antagonised already disgruntled students.

He says that it has also caused the number of masked protesters to swell from around 20 to 100 out of a total student body of 4,000.

“When the state dictates its policies by force, with police invading the school to remove students and using tear gas and water cannons, it’s showing us that violence is their answer to the situation and that generates resistance,” Rodrigo argues.

Deep divisions

Parents are divided about how to deal with the problem, with three parent associations taking different stands.

Judy Valdés leads one of them. “Even the students who throw Molotov cocktails have rights, because they are children who are still growing and that is what the mayor and the government don’t understand,” she says but stresses that she does not agree with their methods.

Ms Valdés wants to see more therapists in the school to help deal with the depression and other mental health problems many of the students are experiencing .

The pupils themselves say that attending class can sometimes resemble entering a war zone and that even those not actively taking part in the protests can get caught up in the melee.

Natalia Canales Riquelme’s 14-year-old son Santiago is one of them.

Santiago “wasn’t masked, he wasn’t throwing stones, he doesn’t even know how to turn on the gas cooker, let alone throw petrol bombs,” his mother says of the day he almost died when he got caught in the middle when police confronted the protesters with tear gas.

“I was nearly suffocating, I thought I was going to die. When we finally managed to get out of the courtyard I fell over and all the other students trampled me as they rushed to get away,” Santiago recalls.

Mayor Alessandri says that he is listening to the demands of the pupils and their parents and that he is trying to find the money needed to modernise the school.

But with emotions running high among the students it is not clear whether the mayor’s promise of improvements will be enough to convince them to stop the protests.




Pope Francis: Young people are the ‘now’ of God

youth photoPope Francis says Mass at Campo San Juan Pablo II for World Youth Day Panama Jan. 27, 2019. Credit: Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

By Hannah Brockhaus

Panama City, Panama, (CNA/EWTN News) – Serving God and his mission is not a passing thing, but can and should be pursued in the present, with one’s entire life, Pope Francis said Sunday at the closing Mass for World Youth Day in Panama City.

“Brothers and sisters, the Lord and his mission are not a ‘meantime’ in our life, something temporary; they are our life!” the pope said Jan. 27. “Not tomorrow but now, for wherever your treasure is, there will your heart also be.”

Jesus “wants to be our treasure, because he is not a ‘meantime,’ an interval in life or a passing fad; he is generous love that invites us to entrust ourselves,” he continued. “You, dear young people, are not the future but the now of God.”
At the end of the Mass, which officially closed World Youth Day 2019 in Panama, Cardinal Kevin Farrell, prefect of the Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life, announced that the next international youth gathering will be in Lisbon, Portugal in 2022.

“At the conclusion of this celebration,” Pope Francis said, “I thank God for having given us the opportunity to share these days together and to experience once more this World Youth Day,” adding that the “faith and joy” of the young people present “made Panama, America and the entire world shake!”

“I ask you not to let the fervor of these days grow cold. Go back to your parishes and communities, to your families and your friends, and share this experience, so that others can resonate with the strength and enthusiasm that is yours.”

In his homily at Mass in Campo San Juan Pablo II, the pope reflected on the day’s Gospel passage, which speaks of the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, when he returned to Nazareth where he had grown up and preached in the synagogue.

Not everyone in the synagogue was ready to listen to Jesus, Francis said, and the same can happen to Catholics today, when people do not believe that God can be “that close and real.”
He said, “You too, dear young people, can experience this whenever you think that your mission, your vocation, even your life itself, is a promise far off in the future, having nothing to do with the present.”

“We do not always believe that the Lord can invite us to work and soil our hands with him in his Kingdom in that simple and blunt a way,” he continued. So instead, people prefer “a distant God: nice, good, generous, but far-off, a God who does not inconvenience us.”

But that is not who God is, he said, “He is concrete, close, real love. Indeed, this ‘concrete manifestation of love is one of the essential elements in the life of Christians,” he said, quoting a 2006 homily of Benedict XVI.

Jesus “invites you and calls you in your communities and cities to go out and find your grandparents, your elders; to stand up and with them to speak out and realize the dream that the Lord has dreamed for you,” he said.

“Do you want to live out your love in a practical way? May your ‘yes’ continue to be the gateway for the Holy Spirit to give us a new Pentecost for the Church and for the world,” he concluded.