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”.
Anaan has a dream: to own a large field of olive trees back in her home town, Idlib, Syria. In the meantime, while the Syrian War is still devastating her country, she attends one of the seven courses for agricultural workers in Lebanon organized by AVSI and funded by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MAECI) with a €1,5million grant. Since 2015, the Training and Education in the Agricultural Vocational Schools in Lebanon project, also called FESTA, aims to improve the quality of Lebanese technical agricultural school educational system through reinforcing teachers technical and educational skills and improving the educational offer for the students of the seven Lebanese agricultural vocational schools.
Today, Lebanon welcomes hundreds of thousands of Syrian and Iraqi refugees and more arrive every day. The “foreign” presence in the country represents at least one fourth, and possibly more, of the current Lebanese population. This has become a serious challenge for a country where the political balance is already unstable. AVSI has been working with refugees in Lebanon since the beginning of the Syrian Civil war. In the camps, AVSI develops educational projects with children, supports women and provide jobs to the men.
After five years of war, it also became necessary to think about the young generations of refugees who will soon start looking for jobs, specially in the agricultural sector, which contributes with 4% of the Lebanese GDP, employs around 8% of the active population, and covers 22% of the Lebanese land. The “Peaceful and Comprehensive Education in Seven Districts of Lebanon” (PEACE) project, funded by the European Union with a €700,000 grant and implemented by AVSI Foundation; and now the FESTA project, were born from this need: assist the Ministry of Agriculture to develop its curricula and provide the schools’ teachers with an opportunity to further enhance their skills.
Living in Lebanon since she had to flee Syria with her family, Annan is happy to have the opportunity to attend FESTA courses. She and her friends have the opportunity to learning many new agriculture skills: how to sow, how to differentiate plants, and how to grow crops better using modern culture techniques. A small step toward her dream.
Prepared by Jackie Aldrette, AVSI-USA. Please send comments and suggestions to Jackie.email@example.com
On Tuesday, July 12, 2016, the OVC Task Force and AVSI-USA co-sponsored an event entitled “From Vulnerability to Resilience: Promoting Graduation in OVC Programs.” The event was designed to facilitate a dialogue among practitioners and with policy-makers and researchers with the goal of taking stock of how graduation approaches to OVC programs are being used today, what the variations in application of the model look like and what results are emerging.
The organizers laid out to the group of 65 participants representing a number of NGOs and donor agencies a preliminary task of clarifying the definition of graduation in terms of OVC programs. As implied in the event title, the dialogue began from a shared framework that the goal of OVC programs is to reach highly vulnerable children and their families and facilitate their transition to greater well-being and stability, with the ideal goal of resilient households providing the conditions for children to thrive. OVC programs have evolved over time and now incorporate economic strengthening of the household has a key element of the effort to build coping and caring capacities of caregivers of children affected by HIV/AIDS.
Central to the structure of the event were two project presentations. These presentations explained how the implementing organizations, AVSI Foundation and FXB, are utilizing graduation concepts and putting them into practice, as well as the results which have emerged.
From the first discussion guided by Jason Wolfe of USAID, it was clear that while a number of central concepts of the graduation approach are clear and shared, there are differences in opinion as well. One axis of debate was around whether graduation is a project-specific concept that involves a clear threshold that a person or household must pass in order to graduate from direct project support, or to a less intense level of support. Alternatively, graduation could be considered as a vision of the ideal end-state of empowerment, self-sufficiency and the capacity to access the services that a person or household needs to maintain a satisfactory level of well-being.
The AVSI SCORE project in Uganda has operationalized the graduation model as a programming tool, intrinsically linked to the project’s case management system and on-going vulnerability assessment. In SCORE, a household graduates when they demonstrate reduced vulnerability across a number of domains and successfully over at least 2 years. Resilience is used to define the status of a household who has graduated and maintained the same reduced level of vulnerability for at least another year.
The FXB Village model in Rwanda and elsewhere uses a classic approach to graduation in which the program is designed with an end-state of empowerment and self-sufficiency in mind, and with gradual reduction in project inputs over time. Graduation does not refer to satisfaction of certain conditions, but to the general theory of change underpinning the capacity building approach and gradual weaning of project support.
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