Help distance-learning (Photo: AVSI)

AVSI tents: "Here we help those who help”

This year's fundraising campaign is titled, "Development is you. The time for courage". There are five projects to support this year: Lebanon, Haiti, Uganda, Latin America and Italy. In Italy, we support those who take care of families suffering hardship.
Filomena Armentano

"Development is you. The time for courage." Part statement, part provocation, the title of the new AVSI Tents Campaign is an invitation not to be afraid to reach out to others. In the face of the pandemic, health and economic crisis, "we have seen for ourselves that sustainable, lasting development for all is possible thanks to long-term plans, strategies capable of overcoming global emergencies, common work, environmental protection and access to advanced digital technologies," explains Maria Laura Conte, Communications Director. These are conditions that depend on the personal commitment of everyone, within a network of solidarity that wants to respond to the real needs of a community in its entirety.

There are five projects to support this year: in Lebanon, Haiti, Uganda, in Latin America, and in Italy. They all have a common denominator: bringing together people aware of their dignity and responsibility, so that they can help each other, help others and build the common good. The greatest challenge is that the linchpin is the family, even and especially the vulnerable family. This is particularly pertinent to the initiative in Italy. "Here we help those who help," Giorgio Capitanio, project leader, immediately clarifies. "We began working in the hospitality sector with migrants and refugees, meeting a whole series of Foundations. Then Covid exploded and we realized that both private individuals and companies with whom we already had a relationship (Associazione San Camillo in Naples, Banco di solidarietà in Cesena, Portofranco in Milan, Resilience associazione onlus in Brescia, some Caritas diocesan associations in various municipalities) were interested in providing support. It is an interest that met a need, "the common need of many associations to be helped to run their social and educational services, for example."
This is how the network of associations, institutions and private individuals developed, helping five thousand families and four hundred children and young people in seven Italian cities: Milan and Buccinasco in Lombardy, Rome in Lazio, Naples in Campania, Rimini and Cesena in Emilia Romagna, and Vicenza in Veneto. There are prospects for extending the project to Sicily as well.

In the short term, the purpose of the network is to respond to the needs that a family impoverished by the crisis reveals. "It starts by covering the costs of basic goods and services, from rent to utility bills, and moves forward by assisting educators to children with learning difficulties. We then think about the job placement of adults, thanks to specific training courses." With a view also to social cohesion and integration.
The impact of the project has a wide audience, if it is true that the percentage of people living in poverty in some Italian areas currently reaches 10%. There are thousands of families living in distress and loneliness, thousands of young people who do not study or work. "Many of the families we help are foreign, from the first to the third generation. But there are many Italian families also impoverished by the crisis. People who out of the blue lost their jobs and found themselves facing deep hardship."

In the long term, the challenge grows. "We talk more and more about territoriality, about fostering the community, guaranteeing adequate standards of quality of life in a precise place. Avsi supports the family in its own context, networking all the partners present, both public and private. We try tirelessly to create this fundamental link because we have realized that in a reality that has changed dramatically due to Covid, the elderly, like young people, live in solitude". First you "restructure" the family, then the community.

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In Corvetto, a district of Milan, the Martinengo Cooperative has been operating since 1985, on the initiative of the Institute of the Sisters of Charity of the Assumption and some volunteers. "The sisters contacted us because they realized they needed help in carrying out their work." They have been meeting with families in the neighborhood for years, helping them as much as they can. They come in contact with different situations: "From a mother who is not well health-wise, to the child who is doing poorly in school, from parents who have lost their jobs, to the elderly who are left alone," Capitanio explains. "They asked us to activate resources to help these families both economically and health-wise, from work to school. We accepted the invitation and involved other institutions in the area. Thus, each association does its bit and together we respond to the plurality of needs that the family has." The network creates that circuit of social status, so that the nucleus can continue to live where it is and can one day come to offer its own contribution to the development of the community to which it belongs or, in Capitanio's words, "they get involved, they develop the desire to become protagonists of their own lives. We are there not to define their needs, but to set ourselves in motion together with them."