A Belgian Jesuit started it all. But not in the way you think.
Mr. Jashti Ranga Rao, one of ASSIST’s founders (now Operational Director), hails from the town Vetapalem in Prakasam district. Long before ASSIST was born, he was hired as a typist in VRO, an NGO founded in 1971 by a Belgian Jesuit Michael Windey.
It was only for a day that he worked as a typist, though. He was immediately moved to accounting, and he worked in this department from 1972, also moving on to take care of VRO’s projects in Tamil Nadu. In 1977, he came back to Andhra Pradesh, to work as the financial controller and project officer.
When a team of VRO volunteers wondered why Indian NGOs could not do what Europeans were doing in India, ASSIST slowly took shape.
ASSIST was founded on 27 December, 1985, by a group of 7 former employees of VRO. Mr. K S R Murthy, who is now the Executive Director of ASSIST, was one of the founders. Mr. Ranga Rao supported the NGO on the weekends while he was still with VRO.
In 1988, he took overall responsibility, and joined as director of the organization.
The organization was partly inspired by the founders’ experience. The members had no specific mission in mind, except for the fact that they wanted to make a difference to rural society.
It started with vocational training for women, youth and adolescents, to promote livelihood. ASSIST also helped poor people build houses with a little financial support. The organization’s objectives evolved over time.
Mr. Ranga Rao says that initially, political and social problems at the community level hindered progress. There were local leaders who only had the interests of their own community or caste in mind, and the NGO had to work its way through these obstacles to continue its projects.
Now, ASSIST is a large establishment with 150 full-time employees working in over 263 villages. There are 10 area offices in key towns. These offices, located on fairly spacious estates, also have living quarters for the area coordinators and their families. There have been instances of married couples working in the same location in different domains.
These area offices also have accommodation for visitors and volunteers. ASSIST has quite a reputation in some foreign countries, from where there are not just funds pouring in, but also volunteers. Foreign volunteers have spent months at the ASSIST projects, in conducting field studies, or even working – for example, teaching spoken English to kids at ASSIST’s schools.
ASSIST’s mission is to be an organization that promotes community-based projects that are self-sustainable. Also, ASSIST believes in helping people tap government resources and schemes to the maximum. Mr. Ranga Rao also says that he wants the communities to sustain development on their own.
The idea is to create concrete models of community, and to work in comprehensive development – including the areas of infrastructure, education and economic development.