AVAS (Association for Voluntary Action and Service) is a service organization, registered as a Trust in Bangalore, India, that came into existence in 1980. It was initiated by a group of professionals and social activists who shared common concerns for the deprivations of the city’s poor, especially its slum dwellers. AVAS work reflects an intense involvement and a prolonged interaction with slum communities in Bangalore city.

“Anita Reddy, the Managing Trustee’s of Ramanarpanam is also the founding trustee’s and executive trustee’s” .

The initial work of AVAS was directed towards improving the living condition—physical, economic and social experience—of the urban poor and ensuring that these individuals were allowed to live a dignified existence. AVAS uses a variety of tools such as housing, health programs, education, skills and income generation activities, savings and credit programs to effectively realize their goals, and in this way have been extremely successful in forming strong and self-reliant communities.

AVAS predominant concern and commitment in its last two decades of work has been to address these issues and to work towards alleviating the oppression and exploitation of slum dwellers. AVAS has worked at the grass root level in various slums in Bangalore and has learned many lessons in the process—both urban poverty and slum development are not isolated issues and encompass problems that that interrelate with a larger society. It is in this context that AVAS has adopted a holistic approach for sustainable human settlement development in slums.

A guiding philosophy in dealing with any of these issues is community-centric and terms like ‘community participation,’ ‘empowerment of women and youth,’ and ‘power to the people’ are not simply jargon for AVAS, but visibly translate into action in the organization’s approach towards integrated and sustainable development of communities.

AVAS firmly believes that urban slum communities, once given the opportunity, have a great deal of potential to develop their own resources and ultimately solve their own social and economic problems. With this in mind, AVAS has adopted an integrated and participatory approach towards problem solving—placing the individuals of slum communities at the center of commanding their own empowerment and social transformation.

Community Participation:
AVAS has always believed in the central role that slum communities must take in the development work that is undertaken in their areas. The community is made a part of all processes—starting from assessment, planning and formulating strategy, to implementation and maintenance. In the re-housing project, AVAS has attempted to allow individuals the right to execute the construction of their own houses, or to encourage a group of people belonging to the community and trusted by it to take on this job of execution. Recognition of people’s potential, creative energy, and building skills, while promoting group participation has been an important principle adopted by AVAS on all of its projects. For the first time in slum re-housing projects in Karnataka, people have not only made their own decisions, but also reconstructed their own houses through individual and group participation, thereby eliminating a middleman contractor, reducing incidental costs and controlling risks associated with poor quality and lack of workmanship. By providing the opportunity for individuals to take leadership roles in the construction of their own homes, individuals have a sense of ownership of their space and find impetus to maintain the project, thereby making it a sustainable one. This model is substantiated time and again through various projects initiated by AVAS.

Empowerment of Women and Youth:
AVAS takes extra care to ensure that women and children are active participants in every aspect of community projects, from conception to implementation. In particular, women and children have prominent roles in the leadership committee that is formed for the supervision, execution and maintenance of the community projects. AVAS is sensitive to the reality that such alternate leadership needs to be encouraged to ensure that all members of the community maintain active roles in their project—that no one in the community takes the role of passive, inactive observer. AVAS focuses on this critical human resource development segment of its activity and goes beyond empowerment of women and youth to also equipping younger children with values and an understanding of their rightful place in society.


Mobilizing Resources:
AVAS’ work is organized on the understanding that ensuring acceptable living environments for the disadvantaged in the city, and the integration of their settlements into the city landscape, demands the need to mobilize resources. Besides tapping the existing budgetary allocations within government agencies like the Bangalore City Corporation, Karnataka Slum Clearance Board and the Bangalore Development Authority, AVAS has succeeded in facilitating loans or grants for housing and infrastructure in different slum communities directly through organizations like HUDCO, HDFC, and Rotary Clubs. Accessing funds is an important feature of AVAS’ work, and has been a perennial problem for the poor.
Income Generation/Formation of Self-help groups:
Another interesting aspect of AVAS’ work is the trust that it places on thrift and credit groups, which are formed within each community that AVAS is involved. Every family is encouraged to put aside some savings each month. These savings are utilized in different communities to meet various requirements ranging from housing to income generation to emergencies; self-help groups are formed long before a housing loan is availed, which works as social collateral for repayment. In fact, the information of those self-help groups is a prerequisite for AVAS to help initiate the processes involved in making a housing project. This action of saving in groups results in knitting the community together closely. Efforts have also been made to impart skills after an assessment of aptitudes that ultimately evolve feasible and viable models for income generation in AVAS’ areas of work. The fact that a number of girls, who have undergone training in various vocational skills have found secure jobs, is a testimony to the group’s success.

Linkages with Movements:
AVAS has worked closely with two city-based movements – KKNSS and Women’s Voice. KKNSS, Karnataka Kolageri Nivasigala Samyuktha Sanghatane, is a state level slum dwellers federation that works in 14 districts of Karnataka to mobilize hundreds of slum communities on their rights, while at the same time to influence government to orient policies for the proper development of the urban poor. Women’s Voice is a city-based movement of women from the poorest sections of society and the unorganized sector of labor. AVAS’ link with these movements has helped in the advocacy role of the three organizations, which are able to demonstrate to city’s policy makers and administrators that viable alternative solutions for re-housing of slum communities exist—and that evicting and de-housing these underprivileged communities is not the only answer.

AVAS strives for a just and humane society…. Two decades of exposure to and action with the poor has taught AVAS that combating the forces that keep the disadvantaged in a stalemate of oppression is not easy, and that the reality of institutional, changes which is required to bring about qualitative improvement in their lives is painfully slow. That realization, however, has only strengthened AVAS’ resolve to continue and

intensify the struggle. Empowering slum communities to bring about a change in their lives, ensuring them space and opportunities to determine their histories and live with security and dignity, remain AVAS’ prime goals to achieve a society that is just, equal and humane. It is a combination of grass root level organization of communities and an understanding of the micro-perspectives that has shaped AVAS’ work over the past decades.

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