The public and private sectors, the Catholic Church and an international development organization: at AVSI’s headquarters in Milan, an unprecedented meeting to reaffirm the scope of commitment. Among the guests were the Mayor of Milan, Giuliano Pisapia, the CEO of Eni, Claudio Descalzi, the Episcopal Vicar of Milan, Msgr. Luca Bressan, and the President of Doxa, Marina Salamon.
An unusual and diverse cast of characters was convened on Monday, January 11th by AVSI Foundation, a leading Italian NGO. The purpose of the meeting was to review the progress of the campaign "Refugees and Us: We are All on the Same Road". Launched before Christmas, the campaign is carried out in partnership with other local NGOs in Milan.
Giuliano Pisapia, Mayor of Milan, Claudio Descalzi, CEO of Eni, and Msgr. Luca Bressan, Episcopal Vicar of Milan, gathered at AVSI headquarters in Milan, along with an entrepreneur, Marina Salamon, President of Doxa. Leading the meeting was Giampaolo Silvestri, Secretary General of AVSI.
The meeting began with the voices of four workers on the front line of those countries at the origin of the recent impressive flow of refugees: Lebanon, Syria, South Sudan and Kenya. (AVSI is working in Dadaab, the largest refugee camp in the world).
Andrea Bianchessi’s testimonial from Dadaab, Kenya was extraordinary: he told about a commitment to ensure access to school for 60,000 young people living in the camps by building or renovating classrooms and training teachers. Take note that 90% of the camps’ refugees are Muslims of Somali origin.
Giuliano Pisapia talked about the welcoming process in Milan in 2015: thanks to the work of Caritas and Arca Foundation, 84,000 people have been received, including 11,400 children. "In the future," said Pisapia, "we will have to act more and more on several levels, of which welcoming is only one. The most important effort is to be able to give hope for the future by supporting young women and men not only to survive but to live with dignity by contributing to the development of their country. "
Claudio Descalzi discussed Eni’s industrial policy in Africa: "Our strategy is to create value. Because value is an investment in the future, and therefore it’s even more important than profit." The Eni CEO used the limited access to energy in African countries as an example: "In sub-Saharan countries over 650 million people do not have access to energy. This means that heat is created with any form of biomass, with severe effects on pollution. Every year there are 4 million deaths caused by this situation. Hence the policy of Eni is to expand electrification in the countries where we are engaged, just as an investment in favor of those countries; in Congo we reached 65%."
Luca Bressan also used the word "welcome" as a fundamental key to unlock a better future. "We are not only thinking about their lives, but also about our future," he said.
Giampaolo Silvestri closed the meeting by emphasizing the importance of partnership among NGOs, public and private sectors and the Catholic Church to deal with what has become the biggest humanitarian issue of our times: "In 2015, the number of refugees reached a record, 60 million. It’s important that we remember that most of the refugees, are not in Italy, but they are in neighboring countries, often poor countries themselves. That is precisely why AVSI is on the front line in such countries."
By Lorenzo Alvaro (vita.it)
A few days after the attacks of Paris brought extremist violence to Europe, eleven students embodied a sign of hope and peace in South Sudan, a country torn apart by four years of tribal clashes. These eleven students graduated from St. Mary’s University with degrees in education.
"These degrees, obtained despite the civil war and the worst food crisis of the planet, represent an example of how education can be a real antidote against violence. From now on, a very important job awaits them; they will become teachers in a country where 60% of the population is less than 15 years old and where only 24% can read and write. They will help build a brighter future for South Sudan,” said Mauro Giacomazzi of the Luigi Giussani Institute of Higher Education (LGIHE) in Kampala. In the last four years he has been following closely AVSI’s project at St. Mary’s.
The St. Mary’s University was created in 2009 in Juba, the capital of South Sudan, by the Archbishop HE Paulino L. Loro to respond to the critical gap in South Sudan of native professionals in necessary functions like nurses and school teachers. St. Mary’s University enjoys full recognition by government bodies in South Sudan.
In this interview, Mauro Giacomazzi explains how difficult it is to work in education in South Sudan:
In difficult moments like the ones we experience today, marked by terrorist attacks and masses of people forced to flee their homes because of war and persecution, what do these eleven degrees represent?
These eleven students represent a sign of hope. With this graduation, not only will their future change, but also that of their pupils. By this achievement, they demonstrate that even those who need a great deal of assistance to achieve their goal have no choice but to share the message of hope they learn when they finally finish, even if they do so merely by existing..
Who are these eleven students and what kind of challenges have they faced in these four years of study?
Teenagers, women, men. Each has their own unique story. But more than anything, they were all incredibly strong. When this program started four years ago, we had 51 students, however 40 of them were not able to graduate. Some of our students were already working as elementary school teachers during the day, and had to study in the afternoon. Many had to prepare for the tests while simultaneous taking care of their families. I still remember that one of our students never stopped coming to her classes even while she was pregnant. She even came to school the same day she gave birth and 15 days later she resumed her studies bringing the baby with her.
During these four years, a myriad of things happened, some very dramatic, what were the main challenges in the midst of them?
St. Mary’s is a very young university and we’ve had to deal with a recently established Ministry of Education, Science and Technology. We’ve had to change our curriculum at least five times, because every time a new secretary was appointed (and we had many in the last four years) he had new ideas and wanted to change the strategy. Just to give you an idea, initially it was a three-year degree, then it became two years, and finally, again was reestablished as a three-year degree. The higher education admission requirements have been defined by the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology only a year ago, and our students were officially accepted only two months ago. I’m talking about this because it was something that really affected all of us. Obviously, we cannot forget that we were also going through a civil war, which is still a reality in this country, and in many occasions we had to close our college for a few months. Each time, our students were able to carry on while college helped them to dream about a better and more ’normal’ life, even in the most difficult moments.
How important is this graduation for South Sudan?
I believe that one of the most beautiful things in life is the opportunity to give somebody a glimmer of hope, but we are only able to communicate this hope when we really experience the life of the other person. In a nation so young but so battered, I believe we are blessed to have a place like this, born from the idea that even the most excruciating circumstances are worth living; and to live means to think about the future.
The UN has recently declared that at least 30,000 people in South Sudan are facing starvation and nearly 4 million - particularly young children - face severe hunger because of the civil war. Why has AVSI, in addition to a few ongoing nutritional projects, decided to support education and this college in particular?
Education and nutrition are not unrelated. A person needs to eat, but without hope in the future everything dies anyway. Let’s think for a minute about what is causing the starvation in South Sudan. Is it only because of natural causes? Has fighting disrupted harvests? How can we stop the violence and the war? How can we help the population now, tomorrow and next year? Altruism and the pursuit of the common good must be discovered by each individual. That’s why, while supporting nutritional projects, AVSI is also always investing on a factor that might generate a new humanity: education. We believe that if a humanitarian intervention is not accompanied by an educational process it only creates dependency in the communities.
What is the future of this project?
We have never thought of St. Mary’s as a project. For us, it’s an action. We will support it up to the moment that our presence is no longer necessary. Since our goal is to help the college grow, we are seeking approval from the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology for two new degrees: a Graduate Diploma in Teaching (primary school) for those students who can come regularly to class while they teach at local elementary schools and a Certificate in Teaching (primary school) for those who haven’t yet graduated from high school but are already teaching. We are talking about two very flexible and quick ways to get a degree.
South Sudan faces an educational emergency so we need to have teachers even if they are minimally qualified. Currently, many teachers begin to work without a real degree or without a degree that is specifically related to their job. The country needs them and the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology cannot afford to lose teachers simply because they don’t have a degree. We thought that the smartest way to address the Ministry of Education’s demand was to propose degree paths that could better meet the needs of those who are already in the system, even if only as a volunteer.
A change of scale for the alternative prison system implemented by AVSI and the Brazilian Association APAC aimed at improving living conditions of Brazilian convicts. A new initiative funded by the European Union aims to extend the APAC method to 3 other Brazilian States, after the success of 42 rehabilitation centers for prisoners in Minas Gerais. Moreover, in one of the centers, a production unit will be started up in close collaboration with the private sector.
AVSI presented its experience with APACs and on human rights projects carried out in Brazil at the EU-Brazil Civil Society Forum and at the EU-Brazil Seminar on Business and Human Rights held on December 15th and 16th. The two meetings took place in Brasilia, in the framework of the first Business and Human Rights Seminar aimed at collecting the most significant Brazilian experiences in the human rights sector, with the presence of Stavros Lambrinidis, EU Special Representative for Human Rights.
Faced with the overcrowding of its traditional prisons, which has become a source of violence, Brazil has developed an alternative prison system. This ‘APAC’ method takes its name from the Association for the Protection and Assistance of Convicted persons, which has been developing the method for some forty years. This alternative system has since been rolled out across the country.
Detainees are regarded more as people undergoing rehabilitation and their psychological, social and spiritual state is monitored. Health, education and self-respect are the cornerstones of this social reintegration method. The cost of this type of prison is much lower than that of conventional prisons, escapes are extremely rare and the reconviction rate is much lower.
The project - The project supports the structures of this alternative prison system in Belo Horizonte. By increasing the effectiveness of its organization, it has reduced the number of acts of violence against the prison population and against former detainees. By developing more humane prisons, this project has allowed detainees to be rehabilitated and has provided them with professional training to meet the needs of local businesses.
In alternative prisons, detainees get involved in community life, take on work, and benefit from legal assistance, medical aid, training, religious support and monitoring of the progress of their social reintegration. This approach is therefore based primarily on rehabilitation through work, but not only this, since its main aim is to empower convicted persons.
To ensure the successful conclusion of their actions and deliberations, they can rely on support from the different legal and social institutions, such as the Court of Justice of Minas Gerais or the Minas Pela Paz Institute.
The project develops the action guidelines of the APAC to help these structures overcome the difficulties of implementing this alternative methodology. The project also improves this method by organizing the collection of data and by training 75 team members in five different APAC.
Training courses leading to qualifications have been prepared to meet the labor demand from the different economic sectors of the region, which include the sectors of industry, services (gardening, cooking, bakery) and production. The training programs have developed a technical component, but they also include a human dimension covering different aspects such as communication, interpersonal relationships, teamwork and ethics.
The success of the project clearly involves raising the awareness of the private sector and the human resources departments, and also developing communications relating to these alternatives.
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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