In 1985, AVSI Uganda began with St. Joseph's Missionary Hospital in Kitgum. Since then, it has inititated or been involved with hundreds of projects, with focuses spanning from healthcare to education, nutrition and agriculture, initiatives related to HIV/AIDS, economic empowerment and livelihoods, assistance for child soldiers, and
the management of refugee camps.
AVSI in Uganda was founded 30 years ago by a group of Italian doctors who worked at the St. Joseph's mission hospital in Kitgum. In order to improve the quality of services offered, a formal collaboration between the hospital and local institutions was initiated.
AVSI’s presence was further strengthened in 1990, when they opened offices in Kampala, now the current headquarters. This history and relationship with local communities has allowed AVSI to establish well-equipped and versatile field offices in Gulu, Pader and Kitgum with experienced staff who possess in-depth knowledge of the area, the population and the local leadership; this has also allowed AVSI to begin operating in twelve other districts of the country.
"The person comes first. We have always tried to give a more human face to our work. This means looking at the needs of each individual and accompanying communities on their development paths by helping them to search for a better life with their own resources,” explains John Makoha, the country representative for AVSI Uganda.
AVSI has accompanied communities in Uganda for 30 years, even during the long periods of instability that characterize their recent history.
Northern Uganda has been the scene of bloody clashes between rebels and government forces as well as a site for the overflowing civil strife from the South Sudanese border. These events resulted in a large refugee population that required great attention and creativity from AVSI Uganda for the development of both long-term programs and an emergency response. In this context, the holistic and integrated approach inherent in any of AVSI’s projects, and the decades of experience in the field have enabled AVSI Uganda to not lose sight of its overall goals in the country.
"Whether it's teaching methods of modern farming to families in order to increase the harvest, helping women to start their own businesses, or allowing the most vulnerable children to access quality education, we do not lose sight of our method that relies entirely on the human factor and the ability of communities to overcome the challenges that life brings,” adds John Makoha.
Currently, the main priorities for AVSI in the country are related to access of quality education, vocational training and employment, and support for five major hospitals in Uganda, with particular regard for the prevention and care of HIV/AIDS patients. Today, AVSI employs 172 staff, based at the head offices and the two field offices. AVSI has an annual budget of $9 million for a wide range of programs across the country. Donors include the USAID, European Union, ICC, UNICEF, Alliance, FAO and private donations from Belgium, Canada and Italy.
In 2002, the commitment of AVSI for education in Uganda began with the Permanent Center of Education (PCE) in Kampala. Today it is known as the Luigi Giussani Institute of Higher Education, and is officially recognized by the Ugandan government. The school includes a series of courses for teachers and professionals that are based on the educational method of Don Giussani. Over the years, the school has given more than 500 courses and trained around 25,000 educators.
To mark AVSI’s 30th anniversary in Uganda, the Kampala office is noting its commitment to education with an event at the Luigi Giussani school. The staff will join government officials, business leaders and members of the community in marking this celebratory occasion with a formal event on Friday, September 18th.
Imagine yourself, middle class Westerner, forced to leave your homeland and all your worldly possessions from one day to the next. Giampaolo Silvestri, Secretary General of AVSI Foundation used this image to help an audience of over two thousand people understand the plight of Iraqis in Kurdistan where AVSI currently assists many refugees fleeing war zones. "Above all else, they beg not to be forgotten," urged Silvestri during a panel discussion held in Rimini, Italy, as part of the 36th annual Meeting of Friendship among Peoples. The Meeting of Rimini, as it is commonly known, is the largest event of its kind in the world, welcoming nearly half a million visitors over the course of the week long cultural extravaganza in August which features round tables, exhibitions, theatrical performances and sporting events.
Over the years the Meeting of Rimini has become a significant moment of encounter, promotion and reflection for the AVSI community. The AVSI booth is a constant hub of activity, where staff from around the world exchange experiences, encouragement and know-how. The booth is also a place to welcome international officials and introduce them to work of the AVSI global network. Taieb Baccouche, Tunisian Minister of Foreign Affairs and Peter Martin, Economic and Political Chief of the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See were two of the many guests who visited the booth and spoke with staff throughout the week.
In addition to the booth, the Meeting provides an important world stage to raise awareness on pressing humanitarian issues. AVSI Foundation was the main sponsor of the panel discussion entitled Emergencies in the World: the Role of International Organizations which sought to examine the effectiveness of agencies such as the UN and the World Bank in the increasing global migrant and refugees crisis. The panel featured Archbishop Silvano Maria Tomasi, Permanent Observer of the Holy See, Paolo Carozza, Director of the Helen Kellogg Institute for International Studies at Notre Dame University and Giampaolo Silvestri, Secretary General of AVSI Foundation.
Paolo Carozza will be very familiar to supporters of AVSI-USA. Under the leadership of the Notre Dame law professor, the Kellogg Institute has become a priority partner of AVSI-USA in Uganda, where cutting edge research is being conducted on the impact of AVSI’s teacher training program implemented by the Luigi Giussani Institute for Higher Education. During the Rimini panel discussion, Carozza likened international organizations to the puppet Pinocchio before he discovered he was a real boy, filled with good intentions yet pulled by the strings of the various global power brokers and technocrats, lacking his own "heart." An expert in international rights, Carozza called for a new international agency that "must rise from the bottom up, from the human community where solidarity develops from the experience of virtue in action, where human dignity is recognized in facts." He cited AVSI's work in the world as an example of the "heart" international organizations need "for a capacity to understand and to pursue the good."
AVSI Foundation didn't limit itself to critiquing other organizations. The Rimini Meeting also affords the occasion to conduct the annual Assembly of AVSI Partners and Board of Directors. This year the Assembly considered the critical question of organizational restructure. The move entailed delegating greater responsibility to the founding partner organizations, who will now have a larger voice in decision making and a greater share in the effort to ensure that AVSI Foundation continues on the path of organizational sustainability. The AVSI network is made up of 36 founding partners throughout the world, such as Cardinal Otunga School in Kenya and Fundacion Sembrar in Ecuador, who share AVSI's mission and method. Alda Vanoni, Acting President of AVSI Foundation, explained that the momentous change gave more decision making power to local partners in a way that better reflected the AVSI mission to generate responsible subjects capable of full engaging the situations where they are operating. The change in statue, which was overwhelmingly approved, also allows AVSI Foundation to provide humanitarian assistance within Italy. The Foundation plans to implements projects addressing the critical refugee crisis in the Mediterranean Basin in the near future.
Back in the United States, AVSI-USA is planning to showcase the work of the Foundation at this year's New York Encounter, a three day cultural event which takes place during the Martin Luther King weekend, January 15-17 (www.newyorkencounter.org). The exhibit entitled Generating Beauty: New Beginnings on the Outskirts of the World, documents the lives of people who have rediscovered their human dignity in relationship with AVSI staff in Kenya, Ecuador and Brazil. AVSI-USA invites you to visit us at New York Encounter.
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