The first volunteers were young Italian men and women who had graduated from university and left homes and jobs to lend their time, talents and energy on a long-term basis in the Ruzizi Valley of Ulvira, Congo (now the Democratic Republic of Congo). Their initiative was in response to an invitation from the local community and institutions to assist in reconstruction efforts following ten years of rebellion and violence. Amid the timid signs of willingness of the population to recover and rebuild, the volunteers’ decision to remain and their commitment to accompany the people rested less on their technical skills or their compassion, and more on their desire and enthusiasm to share with these people a way of facing reality with hope.
From these humble yet enthusiastic roots, AVSI has grown through a process characterized by relationships, commitment and a clear mission of education. AVSI’s engagement in a country or area has always followed a request or invitation to work together, rather than imposing a project upon a community.
AVSI’s early growth was linked to the availability of numerous professionals, from the fields of education, health care, and agronomy, to commit years of service on AVSI projects in Africa and Latin America.
Whether in pro-bono or paid capacities, these long-term volunteers shaped AVSI into what it is today. Over the years, AVSI staff have consistently engaged in deep reflection on the experiences of this work in contexts of poverty, marginalization and instability.
In time, central elements of a method emerge. For AVSI, methodology does not imply having a ready-made solution in hand, but instead the points of method suggest a way of looking at reality and engaging with it, and with others, which is more adequate.