AVSI at Rimini Meeting - Energy & Encounters

The XXXI Annual Rimini Meeting for Friendship among Peoples (http://www.meetingrimini.org/eng), one of the most attended cultural festivals in the world (700,000 people over a week) , took place from August 22 – 28, 2010 in Rimini, Italy. A wide range of speakers, presenters and performers from the worlds of politics, business, science, academics and the arts came together for a week of events at which they shared their personal and professional reflections on the theme “That nature which pushes us to desire great things is the heart.”

At the Meeting, AVSI had an extensive and very lively booth where thousands of people not only learned about the work being done by AVSI around the world but encountered some of those protagonists including Ugandan women from Meeting Point International (MPI) in Kireka, Kampala, already famous to AVSI friends in the USA since 2005 when they shared the income of their stone crushing work for the victims of Hurricane Katrina, and some youth, who gained a new hope through the encounter with Rose Busingye and MPI. The Ugandan guests generated palpable enthusiasm as they spoke of their lives, demonstrated their paper bead making, and performed song and dance. The sale of their beaded necklaces in Europe has already raised over $30,000 for the women’s latest project of building a secondary school for their children in the Kireka slum.

 In addition, AVSI’s Country Representative for Haiti, Fiammetta Cappellini was also present at the meeting, having spoken during those days to an overflowing audience who she captivated with her stories and message of hope from Port-au-Prince.
 
 

[(L) Women of Meeting Point International, Kampala, Uganda, singing at AVSI’s booth in Rimini; (R) Panel presenters M. Yoga of Cameroon, G. Benoit, Haiti’s Ambassador to Italy, and Fiammetta Cappellini, AVSI Country Representative for Haiti]

AVSI was honored to welcome a special invited guest from the United States. Mr. Joshua DuBois, Executive Director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships and Special Assistant to President Barack Obama, participated in two panel presentations on the topics of education, and faith and development.

Education

On the panel titled, “Experiences that Educate”, DuBois gave a quick sketch of the historical presence of faith-based organizations and churches in the education sector in the United States, with recognition that the Catholic Church has led the way in the area of church-sponsored education. DuBois stated that we need to “acknowledge, support and cultivate the role of religious institutions in individual formation,” not as a way of diminishing the importance of government-funded or public education, but as an acknowledgement of the “central importance” of faith-based groups in the formation of consciences, meeting needs, and protecting inherent dignity. DuBois reiterated what may be obvious but is often downplayed: the government cannot solve all the needs of society. Quoting Emerson, DuBois raised the bar for education, saying that the goal of education should be commensurate with the objective of life, which is the full development of the person. Pushing the horizon beyond the United States,  DuBois cited the enormous needs worldwide in terms of education, both in terms of instruction and moral and social support, noting that these needs are too great for the faith based and public or secular sectors to not cooperate.

Overall, the audience was left with the main theme that the faith communities around the world are a deep and rich source of support for and education of millions of the most vulnerable children and adults. His personal childhood experience is a testament to this essential service provided by the faith community. Growing up in a single-parent household in Tennessee, DuBois found himself in an inadequate school but receiving a complementary education in an after-school program at a local church. The church filled in the gaps in his academic, personal and moral development that the state was not capable of addressing.   

The other presenters at this panel included Fr. Thomas Scully, Professor of Political Science at University of Notre Dame, Fr. Jose Medina, Principal of North Cambridge Catholic School in Massachusetts, and Lucía Figar de Lacalle, Education Secretary of Madrid Region, Spain.

From Faith to Development

A second panel was entitled “From Faith to Development” and it focused on an AVSI program implemented in 4-countries of Africa, financed in part by the U.S. Government through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).  This program is referred to as “Our Valuable Children: Increased Care and Support for Orphans and Vulnerable Children in the Great Lakes Region of East Africa,” represented a significant collaboration between the U.S. Government, through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and AVSI; each side contributed half of the funding towards the total $24 million of this 5-year, 4-country program reaching 26,000 children and their families directly, and an estimated 200,000 individuals overall.

 

 [Presenters from left to right: Prof. G. Rovati, Mr. Joshua Dubois, Lucia Castelli, Prof. C. Lauro, Alberto Piatti, AVSI Secretary General]

Dr. Lucia Castelli, AVSI Program Director, presented an overview of the AVSI program and highlighted its relevance for the Meeting of Rimini. She stated that development is only possible when the desires of the heart of the individual are allowed to be awakened and the perspective guided towards the infinite.  She also placed emphasis on the essential dimension of education which is not only guaranteed by access to school but also the presence of adults close to each child and attentive to their needs over time. Dr. Castelli transformed the name of the program from “Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVC),” which was the concept supplied by the government funding, to “Our Valuable Children” in response to the inherent dignity of each child and the universality of the human family. Dr. Castelli presented in brief the latest publication about the project, a beautiful book entitled “Faces of Hope;” available for download at www.avsi-usa.org/publications.html

The Professors Lauro and Rovati, on behalf of the Fondazione per la Sussidiarietá – the research body charged with the external evaluation of the project- shared their experience and results of a multi-year study of the AVSI OVC program. They also revealed how the practical exercise of conducting a scientific evaluation of this kind of initiative served also to improve the capacity of AVSI and its many local partners to monitor and assess the work being done.

DuBois spoke about the US Government’s commitment to working with communities, including the religious and faith-based members, in order to support their fundamental role in the education and development of those most in need. He also recognized and applauded AVSI on its committed attention to each individual with his/her immense dignity and potential and not just as numbers or statistics, as captured in the slogan “one child, one family, one community, thousands of times over.”  He likened this approach to the Gospel parable of the Good Shepherd who goes in search of the one missing sheep and suggested that this is a new and exciting way of thinking about the link between faith and development. Dubois also mentioned two initiatives of the US Government to engage faith communities directly in fostering positive human and social development. In Bangladesh, the “Leaders of Influence” project has reached out to 20,000 religious leaders promoting the capacity to engage their communities as protagonists of development. In Nigeria, the Center for Interfaith Action on Global Poverty (CIFA) is committed to bringing together Christian and Muslim leaders, communities and the government to tackle malaria and other health challenges. 

In conclusion, AVSI’s presence and participation at the Meeting of Rimini was full of energy, certainty and a commitment to continue working together, linking supporters, with public and private donors, with AVSI staff and the local people we work with and for. The theme of the Rimini Meeting was a useful reminder of the greatness and dignity of the human heart as the motor of development. AVSI seeks to be a place and a people who bet on the heart of man witnessing that the answer commensurate to the infinite desires the heart contains exists and is at hand.