In Roraima, Brazil northernmost state, 500 people arrive every day in the city of Pacaraima. Since 2017, Venezuelan migrants have been crossing the border to flee poverty and crisis, looking for a better future. Once they arrive in Brazil, they travel 200 km carrying their belongings before reaching Boa Vista, the capital city of Roraima. Boa Vista has a population of 375,000 people and today the city also hosts more than 30,000 refugees from Venezuela.
AVSI, in partnership with UNHCR, manages three reception centers in Boa Vista and helps more than 1,500 people every day. People who arrive at the centers are exhausted, and feel hopeless. They need everything: food, clothes, healthcare and, above all, they need to feel there’s a possibility for a future in their new home.
AVSI took on this major challenge of helping integrate Venezuelans in Brazil. After providing the initial arrival help in the reception centers with UNHCR, AVSI wants to offer some of the families a package of support and integration for four months in different cities in Brazil.
The package will include shelter, Portuguese language courses, personal services such as education and healthcare as well as initiatives with local businesses in order to offer job opportunities.
On October 3rd, 5th and 6th, in Kibera, inside a vast slum in the heart of Nairobi where almost one million people live, something unthinkable will happen: 150 students from the schools Little Prince, Cardinal Otunga, Ushirika and Urafiki will stage an adaptation of The Divine Comedy, by Italian author Dante Alighieri, directed by Marco Martinelli with Assistant Director Laura Radaelli. Through Hell, Purgatory and Paradise, children will cross a path that will conclude in a parade in the heart of Kibera.
“The work on the Divine Comedy has confirmed to us how this archetypal narrative is universal," explained Martinelli, founder of the Teatro delle Albe, one of the most important theatre companies in Italy. "In this work, we talk about a man who gets lost in a dark forest, full of fear, despair, lack of meaning in life. How that man, when he hopes to get out of it, finds himself devoured by wild beasts and has the strength to understand that he will not save himself. This is the cry of Dante: have mercy on me. His prayer to the Creation, to the world, to the Other, is effective: someone arrives and holds out a hand, leads him into the light. Therefore, we simply told this story, without using Dante’s verses. We used improvisation, actively including everyone including teenagers.”
The project of making theatre a central experience in the educational paths of these schools in Kenya’s slums dates to a few years ago: many teachers had pointed out how the theatre was a factor of great attractiveness for the students. Thanks to the theatre, the rate of absence dropped dramatically and the theatre was also a tool to address other subjects. Since then, thanks to the commitment of AVSI, an international humanitarian NGO that has been present in Kibera for many years with projects in different fields, in particular, that of education, training and job placement, the investment in the theatre has gradually grown.
On Tuesday, September 25th in the halls of the United Nations main building in New York City, AVSI was the co-host of a lively discussion on the topic of “From Vulnerable to Protagonist: empowerment of women”. Other co-hosts included the Italian Permanent Mission to the United Nations and No Peace without Justice, a non-profit advocacy organization.
The title evoked AVSI’s direct, close-up experience with so many women, each with a particular story of transformation and self-realization—the experience of becoming THE protagonist of one’s life story—even in the midst of suffering and obstacles.
Giampaolo Silvestri, AVSI’s Secretary General, stressed the need for a relationship of equality and real collaboration among development actors, advocates and those whom they serve.
“Change cannot be imposed from the top. No communication campaign nor law or regulations will succeed in changing a mindset if the person doesn’t discover, through the direct personal experience …that involve her to the last fiber and makes her discover that she can do it,” affirmed Silvestri through examples taken from his many years visiting AVSI’s development programs around the world.
Teddy Bongomin, a social worker with the Ugandan NGO Meeting Point International in Kampala, sent a moving testimony by video in which she witnessed to the beautiful transformation which occurs when a woman discovers her true value, fully as a woman. This is the key for any development program or even advocacy efforts to have impact, that a woman’s heart is open, reawakened.
“I say if you exalt a woman, make her discover herself, give her tools, she will use them to save her life and even the lives of the others!” proclaimed Teddy.
UNICEF and other partners met in Roraima in August 2018 to discuss Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) needs of Venezuelan immigrants currently seeking shelter in Brazil’s northernmost state.
Government and non-government agencies alongside UN representatives discussed the major problems related to water, sanitation and hygiene conditions inside community housing and received instruction from Martin Ede, a specialist in the area.
Ede, Emergency Wash specialist working with the NGO Canadem, one of UNICEF partners, explained that access to drinking water is not a problem for the Venezuelan community living in shelters in Roraima. The main issue is good practices of hygiene and sanitation.
During the meeting, all the actors working in the refugee reception centers discussed their daily challenges. They raised concern about the disposal of waste food and trash, disease dissemination among children and the lack of a functional sewage system.
“As a result of today’s meeting, we will put together a list of priorities,” said Ede. “We will know where to work in the areas of hygiene and sanitation to generate better impact with more efficiency and a lower cost”.
The solutions to be proposed will be based on the effective actions that are already being carried out in shelters and that respect the characteristics of the migrant population and geographical ties of Roraima. These points were also raised during the meeting.
As a result of the meeting, a report containing the problems and solutions will be presented to all partners. The next step is to put into practice the actions.
"As we are working with different partners, we hope to be able to mobilize the resources needed to cope with the problems. But there is still a long way to go before reaching the goal. This is just the beginning of the process," explained Ede.
"Before this project, our school was almost empty every afternoon as the children hardly came back after lunch. They left to join their parents in the plantations,” said Coulibaly Nigni Amara, Principal of Lataha 1 Primary School, Ivory Coast.
The school was recently visited by Mr. Curtis McCoy, Program Manager for Ivory Coast at the Foreign Agriculture Service (FAS), USDA in his monitoring mission to the program "Integrated Support for Sustainable School Canteens and Early Grade Reading" funded by USDA - McGovern-Dole (2016-2020). Led by The World Food Program (WFP) and implemented by AVSI and partners, the program will contribute in the next five year to the sustainability of school canteens in 613 schools in seven regions in Ivory Coast.
“The most interesting is that with the intervention of AVSI, our school is now equipped with a lot of new tools. Teachers are happy to work in this new context. We can also count on our cooperatives who are ready to supply the canteens with their food products, " complemented Amara.
The purpose of Mr. McCoy’s mission was to ensure that the program is running smoothly in the targeted schools. Concretely, it was a question of knowing the level and the quality of the interventions already carried out by the Ministry of the National Education. Community participation was also of major interest namely how the communities and the teachers integrate the program, in order to promote the sustainability of school canteens.
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