Anton Barbu, responsible for AVSI’s activities in Syria, talks about the children of Damascus in this interview with the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera: “Every day, I leave my house at around 7:30 to go to AVSI’s office in Damascus. It’s a ten-minute walk. On my way, I encounter at least 30 children sleeping on the sidewalk.”
How is the current situation in Syria?
I have recently spoken with a father who lives in #Aleppo. He described heartbreaking scenes: children wondering around the rubble because their families have either left town or can no longer take care of them. But also in Damascus the situation has deteriorated. Every time I stop at a traffic light, I’m “surrounded” by many children trying to sell whatever they have, most of the time stacks of tissues.
Is there a future for Syrian children?
In Europe we say that children are the future. In Syria, they are the present, in the sense that at least 2 million children are currently living a daily drama in areas difficult to reach.
Do you think in Damascus a child suffer less than in Aleppo?
If we really want to say that, I guess we can. At least in Damascus, children have a sidewalk to sleep on. In Aleppo, not even that.
On September 6, AVSI finalized a three-year project funded by the European Union in the Republic of the Congo. The project’s main goal was to train and facilitate the inclusion of young adults with disabilities in the labor market through the creation of cooperatives.
“Now I know who I am, a hairdresser. I’m self-sufficient and financially independent”. Elayne is 26 years old; she is deaf and lives in Pointe-Noire, the second largest city in the Republic of the Congo and the main commercial center of the country. In Pointe-Noire, 500 kilometers away from the capital Brazzaville, more than 7,000 young adults with disabilities live among a total population of 800,000 people. Most of them are completely excluded from the labor market and depend on friends and family support. This was Elayne’s life three years ago. She was then accepted in a project funded by the European Union and implemented by AVSI, whose main goal was to integrate young adults like her into the workforce through the creation of cooperatives.
After three years of taking professional courses, Elayne, with 177 other young adults with disabilities, is finally independent. She and her colleagues learned new skills and are now able to work in recently created cooperatives. This amazing outcome is a result of their strong determination and their integration in the project funded by the European Union to improve the social and economical conditions of people with disabilities in the region.
During the three-year project, these 177 young adults learned how to be tailors, carpenters, upholsterers, hairdressers as well as bakers and blacksmiths. AVSI followed them through their journey to become economical independent: from learning new skills to how to manage their recently created cooperatives, which represent the core of the project.
“Those who participated in the project were encouraged to work together in cooperatives, legally recognized by the Government in the Republic of Congo. This way it was easier to reintegrate these young adults in the workforce,” explained Caterina Cipriani, AVSI responsible in the Republic of the Congo.
AT THE CENTER OF ATTENTION WITH RIO OLYMPICS, COUNTRY EXPERIENCES ITS WORST ECONOMIC AND POLITICAL CRISIS
By FABRIZIO Pellicelli *
Photos by Gabriel Nacimento (top) and Antonello Veneri (slideshow)
In these days, when Brazil is at the center of international attention with the Rio Olympics, the country is experiencing the worst economic crisis, and political and institutional reforms of its democratic history. The striking contrast between the grandeur of the opening ceremony and the actual condition of the majority of Brazilians forces basic questions: how is it possible that these two realities continue to coexist? How is it possible that tens of millions of people still live in extreme poverty, with no water, food, education, hospitals, work? Is there a common understanding, either in Brazil or in the rest of the world, as to the reasons for this great disparity and social injustice?
On the opening day of Rio 2016, I happened to be in the Sertão, the semi-arid Brazilian outback, a very poor region north of Rio, which alone represents 9% of the Brazilian territory and is home to 11% of the entire population. I was there to start a development project on behalf of some local communities that AVSI Brazil intends to implement with a large Italian industrial group which has expanded its activities to that region. The project aims to contribute to the improvement of living conditions for hundreds of local families.
The Sertão is the clearest mirror of Brazilian inequality. In this region, unlike the area surrounding Rio which has been polished up for the big event, there are no roads without potholes. The local roads are largely unpaved and red Brazilian earth soils the white of the horses.
There has been no rain in the Sertão since January; a tragedy in a place where the local water depends mainly on rainfall. Though high quality underground water flows in abundance, the State, which has invested billions of Reals to extract of oil in the pre-salt region, is unable to build water wells for its population.
The positive international image of Brazil being broadcast in these day is surely helpful: an emerging country, thanks in part to Olympics. But this growth should generate new wealth to reinvest in development policies. The State has a duty to ensure access to basic services for people, to ensure a basic infrastructure and to attract private investment in a sustainable manner, which is also compatible with its land and culture.
Private businesses are vital players when seeking a better redistribution of wealth. In Brazil, corporate social responsibility models have reached very advanced stages. They are based on the concept of mutual gain for the private sector and for society as a whole, which is seen as a set of stakeholders in a given region.
These models call for the active involvement of the third (non-profit) sector, through partnerships that create wealth for the region, stimulate employment, promote access to new knowledge and technology, and form the basis of thoughtful cultural and environmental development the country.
The associations of the Brazilian non-profit sector can be effective in promoting sustainable development. They guarantee a stable presence in contexts where the State struggles, or is has no interest, to serve. Even in the poorest places in Brazil, there exist non-profit associations that arose in response to the practical needs of the people and the desire of people at all levels of society to be protagonists of their own development.
The faces and stories of the people of the Sertão may appear "unnecessary" in a society where a "culture gap" dominates, but they can teach us to rediscover the value of solidarity and the positivity of life, even in extreme conditions. The Olympics may represent a unique opportunity to reveal this other face of Brazil.
* Fabrizio Pellicelli is CEO of AVSI Brazil. AVSI has been present in Brazil since the
1980's and works in various fields of development, such as urban development, energy efficiency and education. The staff of AVSI, is composed of over 1,000 people and its programs reaches 2.6 million direct beneficiaries worldwide.
FORTIFIED FLOUR WAS SPECIFICALLY DESIGNED TO PREVENT DIETARY DEFICIENCY IN CHILDREN AGES 6 TO 24 MONTHS
Child malnutrition is a major problem in Haiti. 2.5 million people live in extreme poverty with 100,000 children under five years of age suffering from acute malnutrition and one in three children stunted, or irreversibly short for their age. In 2014, AVSI Foundation, in collaboration with AVSI Canada, and in partnership with World Food Programme, and the University of Notre Dame Haiti, decided to combat this major problem in Haiti through a project called “Locally Produced Fortified Infant Cereal in Rural Haiti: An Innovation to Support Commercialization, Social Entrepreneurship”.
Two years later, AVSI and its partners developed a sustainable, affordable and locally grown product called Mama+. This product, which meets WHO nutrition standards for complementary infant cereal, was specifically designed to prevent malnutrition in children aged from 6 to 24 months in Torbeck, a commune in the Les Cayes Arrondissement, in the Southern Department of Haiti. The goal was to reduce malnutrition in Torbeck by 1%. The project, so far, was able to lower it by 1.2%. Mama+ fills the gap in available nutritional foods that are affordable for the local community. In addition, it has proven to effectively prevent malnutrition for children under 2 years old, which is considered the critical window of opportunity for a lifetime of healthy nutritional outcomes.
“My son couldn’t eat anything,” remembers Katherine Sander, mother of one of the 6,900 children who have received periodical home visits thanks to the project. “When I began to buy Mama+, he finally began to eat.”
Mama+ provides a much needed food supplement to local children, but also empowers women in the community through economic initiative and education. Twelve local women serve as health educators and sales persons. Through a door-to-door sales model, entrepreneurial women in the community were trained to sell Mama+. Their role is also to monitor the nutrition status of children and spread key information about proper infant feeding and healthy living, like the benefits of a balanced diet, the importance of clean water and how to recognize when children are malnourished.
“The women who participated in this project were able to spread their knowledge as well as the qualities of Mama+ to other families and, by doing so, they were preventing malnutrition. They were also able to learn more about other complementary foods,” says Joseline Marhone Pierre, Director of Nutrition of the Ministry of Public Health of Haiti.
SYRIAN WOMAN WHO MANAGES AVSI EDUCATIONAL PROJECTS IN LEBANON SHARED HER EXPERIENCE WITH REFUGEE CHILDREN
Walking for the first time across the streets of New York, Rana Najib gets emotional when she sees the Syrian flag among the 200 that surround the Rockefeller Plaza.
“I wasn’t expecting to see the Syrian flag here,” explained Ms. Najib.
Monday, July 18, 2016 was a very long and emotional day for this 38-year-old Syrian who had to move to Lebanon to find a better way to work and live after the war in Syria began. Currently managing educational projects for AVSI in Lebanon, Ms. Najib was invited by the United Nations to participate in a fundamental, pressing and, in her case, very personal discussion: how to address large movements of refugees and migrants. Her participation in an interactive multi-stakeholder hearing at the UN was fundamental for two reasons: she is originally from Syria and she works daily in the field with refugee children and adolescents, a background and experience that most of the panelists couldn’t share with the audience.
“There were a couple of Syrians in the audience, but surprisingly none on the panel,” commented Ms. Najib after the event.
The main goal of the multi-stakeholder hearing was to provide an opportunity for member States to exchange views and to inform the inter-governmental negotiation toward the finalization of an outcome document for the United Nations Summit for Refugees and Migrants. The Summit will be held on September 19, 2016 at the UN headquarters in New York. Based on the most recent UNHCR Global Trends report (June, 2016), 65.3 million people were displaced from their homes by conflict and persecution in 2015, the highest number since UNHCR records began.
Ms. Najib exchanged ideas with a diverse group of speakers representing other international NGOs about the specific theme "Reframing the narrative on migration and refugees in the context of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda”. The other participants in the debate were Mr. Richard Bennett, Representative and Head of Amnesty International's UN Office; Ms. Sybil Nmezi, Executive Director of Generation Initiative for Women and Youth Network; Ms. Sandra Vermuyten, Head of Campaigns of Public Services International (PSI); Ms. Sandra Saric, Vice President of Talent Innovation, Information and Communications Technology Council (ICTC). They addressed the theme by answering three different questions. The first one was “How can we combat xenophobia and discrimination and build a strong narrative that recognizes the positive contribution of migrants for inclusive growth and sustainable development?”
Based on her experience with AVSI, Ms. Najib’s answered that this is an issue that needs to be addressed using three different but combined efforts:
“One of the key elements to combat discrimination and build a strong narrative that recognizes the positive contribution of migrants is to engage local communities to work closely with refugees through social and educational projects,” said Ms. Najib. “The second element is to analyze discriminatory and exclusionary practices that prevent refugees from effectively participating in society, many times, resulting in a waste of talent. Finally, acknowledging the crucial role of the media can help build a positive image about the refugees.”
During the panel, Ms. Najib and the other participants also had to answer two more questions: “How can we encourage national and global leaders (political, social, economic and religious) and the media to promote a more positive narrative on migration and refugees?” and “How could NGOs and civil society, including the private sector and academia, contribute to a global campaign to counter xenophobia, as proposed by the Secretary-General in his report for the 19 September Summit?”.
“Unfortunately, some politicians constantly use bad narratives when talking about refugees to get consensus. This is one of the reasons why I believe that a great effort has to start from the bottom. We have to help citizens to accept that we are living in multicultural and pluralistic societies. In our globalized world, this is a fact that cannot be stopped or fought,” said Ms. Najib. “In other words, living together (different people from different countries, cultures and religions) can be a positive and enriching experience rather than a negative condition that needs to be avoided at all costs.”
Back in Lebanon, Ms. Najib is working on the project “Supporting the enrollment and retention of vulnerable children in public schools in Lebanon”. Funded by UNICEF and implemented by AVSI, the project aims to work with a total of 12,000 children and their families through four different initiatives: early childhood education activities targeting 4,230 children aged 3-6 years without access to Kindergarten; outreach activities to explain how families can enroll their children in the Lebanese formal public education; homework and remedial support that targets enrolled and at-risk children in public schools, and life skills activities for adolescents.
“Through this project, we are targeting children of all ages, starting from the little ones who have never been to school, but also helping families understand how to enroll their children in the Lebanese School system and provide after school support for those who are about to drop out because they are struggling”, explained Ms. Najib.
Rana’s participation in the multi-stakeholder hearing had a considerable impact on her life, both professionally and personally.
“This opportunity taught me a lot about international cooperation and gave me the opportunity to network with partners and stakeholders,” said Ms. Najib. “Personally, I’m going back to Lebanon feeling more confident”.
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