Via International is a 501(c)3 service organization based in California and dedicated to building "paths to self-reliance for an interdependent world."
Via International has successfully helped address community needs by supporting community members to become agents of positive change since 1975. Programs emerged from community needs to improve quality of life through nutrition and ecology training, community leadership education, and microcredit and microenterprise support. Voluntours programs offer educational travel and service learning opportunities to engage with community development initiatives. The Via Institute provides a framework to nourish personal development, foster community engagement, strengthen organizations, and promote global dialogue.
In the past year, we celebrate the following successes:
1,400 volunteers participated in educational travel and service learning programs in more than 7 locations...
665 food gardens were created in homes, schools, and communities...
2,500 mothers and families and 20,000 children participated in environmental education and healthy breakfast programs in more than 44 communities...
328 microenterprise loans were dispersed to help women and families start small businesses...
300 women graduated from the Promotora community outreach worker training program.
To learn more, order the the following publication documenting our history of more than 35 years of successful integrated community development work written by Dr. Robert J. Kolesar, Associate Professor at John Carroll University in Ohio:People of Good Will: Service, Development, and Education in the Work of Los Niños, 1974-2009
Transformations… A letter from Board President, Jeanette leehr
"At the time I moved into my current role two years ago, I had served on the Los Niños board for about eight years. During those years, I became increasingly familiar with the organization: its people, the programs, the financial picture, our supporters, the organizational structure, the successes and failures, and the overall context in which we operated. I also gleaned the organizations’ history and, within it, began to see its evolutionary course.
The condensed version is as follows:
Thirty-five years ago, we began with a charity objective. Much work was done through volunteers to provide food, clothing and other assistance to communities in the US-Mexico border region, principally Tijuana and Mexicali. About ten years later, new ideas formed in the communities about how to become strong in a lasting way. We listened and then worked with the communities to modify our operations so as to promote long-term community development and self-reliance.
We made some key changes. We employed a promotora model. This meant that we would train community ‘promotors’ (mostly women, as it happened) to work with us to bring education, training and access to community members in the areas of ecology, nutrition.
Later we added adult education and microcredit components. During this second phase, our work was augmented by streams of student volunteers from the U.S. who worked, side-by-side, with community members to create improvements in the community’s physical infrastructure. As such, our community development work addressed and integrated both the humanistic and physical needs of the community. And by way of the volunteers, the program further enhanced intercultural understanding and provided the powerful experience of working together toward common goals.
Around the time I started as Board Chair, we conducted a board assessment, which included a detailed historical overview led by current and former staff members. The process of going through the history together was a valuable journey. We learned about where we have been and where we had arrived and, in the end, this careful chronicle helped us make important decisions about our future path.
These decisions are reflected in our new Strategic Plan. The Plan acknowledges that:
- Our model of community development is now proven and it works.
- We will continue to expand our current programs and develop new initiatives in Mexico.
- Responding to many requests and steadily increasing interest in our model, we commit to sharing and teaching the model internationally and will establish an Institute for this purpose.
- We recognize the valuable role that ‘voluntourism’ plays in a community development context and will promote its constructive use by partnering with other community development organizations internationally, and, by way of the Institute, share our knowledge and expertise in this area.
Given the broadening scope of our work and its evolving orientation, our board became increasingly aware that our name, Los Niños, had become a little bit small for us. While we continue to work in the children’s arena, we were doing so much more.
After careful consideration, the decision was made to change our name to one that would be broad enough to reflect our multi-faceted character.
We chose Via International as our new name. “Via” means ‘by way of’ or ‘a path’.
For a long time, our motto has been “Paths to Self-Reliance” so we have retained the path association but used an international (and Spanish!) word. The word encompasses the many paths to improvement and self-reliance made possible for those we serve, and also to those who participate in our programs.
On this last point, we have been delighted and comforted to learn that, increasingly, the path is not perceived as being one-way: the servers often benefit as much as the served.
The experiences of our staff and volunteers, on the one hand, and the members of the communities we work in, are often profound and they consistently deepen understanding, appreciation and mutual concern. Such transformative change is clearly what the world needs more of and it is soothing to know that the powerful spirit of ‘little Los Niños’ lives on in this inspiring endeavor… introducing Via International ! "