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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