|AVSI in Africa|
In the early 1970s, a group of Italian friends embarked on a volunteer development project in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In 1972, AVSI was founded with Sub-Saharan Africa its first field of activities. Even today, AVSI’s programs in Africa absorb nearly half of the entire AVSI annual budget which by 2008 had passed $40 million. AVSI’s Africa portfolio of long-term development interventions has expanded to include specific relief and post-conflict transition operations in eleven Sub-Saharan countries.
Since its inception, AVSI has developed according to an approach which aims to empower local organizations, namely non-profit groups or cooperatives, to sustainably provide educational, economic, medical and social services in their communities. AVSI’s focus is not limited to simply meeting daily needs or facing humanitarian catastrophes. AVSI attempts to value the desire for a better life of each individual and community and to accompany the other in the effort to create the conditions for a better future even in the most destitute and distressed situations.
This approach is demanding. It requires a great deal of flexibility in programming to listen to and work side-by-side with people and not simply to follow a crisis or available money. This long-term commitment has been possible due to the many professional AVSI staff members, some of whom have been working in the same country and even the same local district for years. Another enabling factor is the great commitment of AVSI’s private donors whose support in most cases is sustained over extended periods of time.
This approach is also rewarding and leads to concrete benefits for AVSI, and consequently for all stakeholders. First of all, AVSI gains a profound familiarity with the contexts and mutual trust among all the actors involved, both governmental and non-governmental. Secondly, donors trust and appreciate the accumulated body of knowledge and experience that is possible only through on-the-ground engagement. In addition, AVSI has understood and articulated a guiding method and not a model. While a model risks being a coercion or imposition, a method is a valuable tool which gives space to the process of empowering a people and their institutions. Such a method can be used in any country and across sectors.
From the first seed of work in Congo, AVSI has consolidated and expanded operations particularly in the Great Lakes region of East Africa. Since the mid-1980s, AVSI has been working in Uganda and Kenya, always following the method dictated by relationships and local resources. In 1994, AVSI was invited to Rwanda after the work it accomplished in Uganda. Likewise, AVSI began activities in southern Sudan following the relationship with thousands of Sudanese refugees in northern Uganda. The story has unfolded in the same way in Burundi.
In West Africa, AVSI has been present in Nigeria since 1989, Sierra Leone since 2002 and the Ivory Coast since 2008. Currently, AVSI staff and partners in Angola and Mozambique are responding to needs and opportunities for expansion.