WHAT IS SONIA?
SONIA (“SOciety for New Initiatives and Activities” to build together a better world), was established in July 2002 in memory of Sonia Herzog who died in a car accident at the age of 21. The Association’s objectives are to assist in tackling the root causes of marginalisation and in promoting cultural exchanges. In this regard, it promotes activities related to social and economic development, ethnic and racial integration, safeguarding the rights of the most vulnerable groups (women, children, youth, indigenous peoples and ethnic minorities) and protecting/preserving the environment.
SONIA has a charter (available on request) and was registered under Italian law as a non-profit association on 23 July 2002. SONIA is in the process of registering as a Charity Organisation under Italian law to allow, among others, persons who give their contributions to benefit from fiscal deduction. The relevant information will be provided to you as soon as available. It has a membership of about 100 friends and a Board of eight members: the composition of both is rather international. Indeed, SONIA was born out of contributions of different cultures, and is lucky to have friends from many countries, who are already or wish to become members of the association. The majority of the members and of the Board of SONIA are development practitioners who are professionally engaged in the fight against poverty and marginalization. SONIA raises funds through donations from friends and the organization of fund-raising cultural events. It welcomes new members who pledge regular contributions and provides periodic progress reports. A friend of SONIA is building a new web site for the association. All the work for the association, including that of the grassroots partner organizations, is done on a totally voluntary basis. All funds mobilized are used exclusively to finance worthy local initiatives.
WHAT IS ITS VISION?
SONIA is neither a traditional NGO nor a solidarity group focusing on specific themes such as the environment or gender. Rather, it is an initiative that tries to create links amongst people, to promote a new social tissue.
Though quite young, it is already supporting very small grassroots initiatives that nevertheless have a very high human potential because they will allow SONIA’s members to get to know other people and to build with them relationships that go far beyond individual projects. Different threads are being woven that will later develop into a whole pattern. SONIA expects to enlarge the sphere of relationships and nurture a concept of social relationships that go beyond geographic or cultural boundaries. It is this vision that makes this association different.
In a period when even the simplest words – “democracy” and “information” come to mind first – have been emptied of their real meaning, SONIA is trying to get back to the value of “real things”, things that benefit others as well as its members.
WHAT HAS SONIA ACCOMPLISHED SO FAR?
Since 2002, SONIA has supported three small but vibrant grassroots initiatives. The criteria adopted for their selection were: consistency with the objectives of the association, low cost per beneficiary, sustainability of the investment and level of risk. Some of these criteria are more important than others; all of them have been used in a very flexible way.
In Argentina, SONIA has supported the Estefania Family, a small, family-run organization that combines emergency activities, such as a popular kitchen for vulnerable groups, with small productive activities, such as horticulture and the processing of products for sale. SONIA has supported this organization to purchase small agricultural tools, irrigation equipment, seeds, small processing tools and small structural changes of the centre. In accordance with SONIA’s vision, this initiative has allowed for the establishment of links and exchanges between the Estefania Family and a nearby agricultural school. The students of this school, youth from families of very modest means, have used the facilities and the tools acquired by the Stefania Family with SONIA’s support, to practice horticulture on the fields of the centre while transferring the know-how of advanced horticultural practices to the members of the centre. This initiative has recently been closed because it has reached its objectives.
In Brazil, specifically in Campo Grande (Mato Grosso do Sul), SONIA has been supporting the Casa de Ensaio, a non-profit organization, that works with ex-street children and with young people from very poor families. The organization rescues these youth through engaging them in non-traditional educational activities, such as theatre, dance and painting. Amongst these students, over the past four years, the Casa de Ensajo identified some of the most promising ones to participate in a one year special crash course to allow them to pass their university entrance exams. SONIA has provided scholarships to seven young people (six girls and one boy). Six of them have been admitted to the University. These results are excellent, especially in view of the fact that these exams are quite difficult (the average pass rate for the country is around 35 to 40%) and that the youth supported by SONIA had a big handicap to begin with. The students who have been admitted are all receiving very good scores in their new University career. Two points need to be highlighted here. First of all, the Casa de Ensaio has contributed to their success not only with moral support but also by paying, out of its own funds, tutorship in subjects in which the students were weaker. If one accounts for this support (in kind and money) the Casa de Ensaio has contributed to the financing of this initiative as much as SONIA. Secondly, some of these youth have decided, by themselves, to reimburse in kind the support received and are currently working as volunteer teachers in the Casa de Ensaio. At the moment, SONIA expects to start a new initiative with the Casa de Ensaio. In order to respond to an increased demand for the type of education it provides, this institution has recently rented new premises, and has increased the number of students it receives each year, expecting to reach 180 students in 2007. In addition, rather than providing courses only over the week end, its has started a more intensive programme. Consequently, it has requested SONIA to finance in 2007 scholarships for four assistants and four monitors to assist the centre’s current staff. SONIA has accepted this request willingly since this implies that its resources will touch a much larger number of needy youth.
Another initiative supported by SONIA takes place in India; in partnership with Tarun Bharat Sangh (TBS), a non-profit grassroots organization. It seeks to improve the livelihoods of poor people living in arid and semi-arid areas in Rajasthan through the revival of ancient, but currently abandoned, water harvesting methods. The initiative supported by SONIA is promoting, through awareness raising campaigns and motivation, the diffusion of these techniques and related activities, where similar grassroots organisations exist and/or are emerging. The first phase of this initiative, which has just ended, has been very positive. Major achievements can be summarised as follows: organisation of marches to raise awareness of the need to build johads (water retention structures); construction of two johads in two large villages and establishment of village tree plantations; sensitisation of 200 school children on the importance of water and forests to preserve the environment; organization of awareness raising meetings, bringing together about 1,300 people, on the issues of conservation; training of 20 traditional birth attendants; and sensitisation and training of 240 rural women to exercise their rights to vote in order to influence, amongst others, local decision makers on problems they face as women. At the moment, the Board of SONIA is waiting for a small assessment of the first phase which would also make proposals for a second phase. In this new phase, the partnership with Tarun Bharat Sangh would also be strengthened.
SONIA has also been supporting an initiative in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in partnership with a local grassroots institution “Promotion de la Famille Abandonnée de LUIZA” (PROFAL). PROFAL operates in a very remote area of RDC (Western Kasai), situated close to the area ravaged by the civil war and which has received many refugees from that area. HIV/AIDS is prominent in the area and there are many HIV/AIDS related orphans The arrival of so many refugees has put a great deal of stress on the local resources, especially on the availability of drinking water and primary schools. In the second quarter of 2005 Sonia financed a first phase of an initiative for building drinking water points by harnessing natural spring water. This work was achieved in record time by the local populations who have provided their own labour while SONIA financed the necessary purchased material (cement, pipes and taps etc.). After the end of the civil works, a management committee, comprising five women and three men and presided by a woman, has been elected. This committee has raised contributions from the local population to establish a small maintenance fund. Since the concerned population is very poor, contributions have been mostly in kind. This is a very good indication of the degree of commitment and responsibility of the concerned population. SONIA has just financed the building of three additional water points. In addition, PROFAL has also informally asked SONIA’s support for the purchase of primary school supplies (chalk, pencils, notebooks, etc.), for the construction of a roof in corrugated iron and the supply of mid-day meals for orphans. We are waiting for a formal request.
Recently, SONIA has been approached by an organization – Got Matar (Bare Hill Top) Community Development Group – in Bondo District in Kenya. Bondo has the highest incidence of HIV/AIDS in the country and about one third of the school age children in Got Matar are orphans. Since 2002, this grassroots organization has worked very hard in mobilizing funds and voluntary labour from within the concerned rural communities to improve the facilities of 10 primary schools (replacement of roofs, tanks for collecting drinking water, latrines, school gardens etc.), to build two pre-primary schools and to support the education of orphans (uniforms and school supplies). Now the Group’s top priority is to build a secondary school for 600 pupils. It is a very ambitious project which responds, however, to the real needs of the population, especially those of the young boys and girls who do not understand why they cannot carry on with their studies without having to leave home – a very costly option. The Got Matar Community Development Group has drawn up plans for a secondary school complex, including classrooms, offices and limited boarding accommodation as well as teachers’ housing. The project and the proposed site have been approved by the Ministry of Education that will provide teachers once progress has been made by the community in building the school. Construction will be phased to match the build-up in the number of pupils, a progressive increase in the number of boarders coming from outlying villages and the growth in staff members. Total cost of construction has been estimated at Euro 250,000, and a further Euro 50,000 would be used to provide bursaries for orphans to attend both primary and secondary schools. Construction started in October 2006 of a block of 4 contiguous classrooms with the aim of taking in the first batch of pupils in January 2007. The next priorities are to build a laboratory, an open plan dining hall/assembly area, the nucleus of the school office and a boundary fence. Total cost of this phase is estimated at about Euro 57,000 (about Euro 15,000 of which will be allocated for the purchase of equipment). A further Euro 12,500 would be required for supporting school attendance of 250 orphans for 2007. For more details and a brochure, seewww.gotmatar.org SONIA has already pledged a limited contribution but it has committed itself to mobilize additional funds for Got Matar through its friends.
SONIA is making an urgent appeal to you all to contribute generously to the initiatives that it is supporting or has pledged to support. You have several options, namely to send a yearly, quarterly or monthly contribution (some members have already pledged a monthly contribution of 1% of their salary) or to make a one-off payment. For ease of reference, please find attached a simple form which will allow you to indicate the type and amount of contribution you wish to make as well as which initiatives you wish to support. If you do not indicate any preferences, SONIA will split your contribution between its initiatives. Thank you very much in advance for your continuous support.