Anna Maria among the desks of a school in Algeria in 1960

In 1954 a group of Milan academics and professionals created CELIM – Centro Laici Italiani per le Missioni (Centre for Italian Laypersons for the Missions) – with the aim of supporting diocesan missionary activities in the South of the world.
This is how our story began. The story of one of the first Italian non-governmental organizations.

  • Piero Reali, 1987, one of the founders of CELIM and honorary chairman for life (1924-1994)
  • Those dealing with these things today certainly cannot imagine the conditions our missionaries had to work in fifty years ago their undertakings arouse even more admiration in that they were convinced that they were simply doing their duty.

Originally a spontaneous association movement, over the years CELIM has become more structured and has grown into an NGO recognized by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the European Union for the implementation of short- and medium-term programs in developing countries (DC), the selection, training and employment of volunteers, the on-site training of citizens of DCs and for information and development education activities.

CELIM represents the story and the transformation of a part of Italian co-operation. The part that is born out of civil society and is inspired by Christian values.

Weighing children: first health care activities integrated with agricultural initiatives in Zambia

Years 1954

The lay people intending to offer specific help to Catholic missions through moments of discussion, meetings on spirituality and community life experiences are getting trained; at the same time the collection and shipment of medicines and medical equipment as direct support of the missions were being organised.
The archbishop of Milan, Cardinal Montini, and Msgr. Bramati, head of the diocesan missionary office, also take an interest.

During the ’60s dozens of volunteers go to Africa, Asia and South America, no longer just medical staff but also teachers, engineers and surveyors. CELIM keeps growing, and a specialisation scholarship system for foreign students is developed; support groups are  created in different cities of northern Italy (in 1964 the one in Bergamo became CELIM Bergamo, which is now an independent organisation).

  • Ad Lucem, 1958
  • This is what our association proposes to do: training lay people so that they can bring the hope of a better future based on the principles of charity, truth and justice to peoples seeking justice.
A group of volunteers in a local community in Zambia

Years 1972

The Association is officially registered with the court of Milan.

In the 80s CELIM begins to work on development education in Italy through public meetings and interventions in schools with the aim of informing and raising awareness.
Work is centred on fostering the emergence of the economic and political networks that link the Southern and the Northern hemisphere, everyone being invited to play an active role to promote real change and to welcome Others.

  • Dr Pietro Corti at Gulu Hospital, Uganda, 1971
  • Never tire to repeat to everyone, and especially to young people: your help is essential. Talking and discussing about the third world is not enough. Action is needed.
Mina, one of the first nurses in the Central African Republic of the 80s

Years 1982

The Association adopts a more professional organizational structure and is approved by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to implement programs in developing countries.
CELIM decides to support international volunteering not just for individuals but also for families and young couples: families with children start leaving and their first children are born “in mission land”. 1984 sees the organisation of the conference on “Family and international volunteering. A bridge between different worlds and cultures: possible choice or utopia? “.

The importance of specialization and technical-professional training, as well as human preparation, is growing: "knowing what to do" always goes hand in hand with "doing together".

In the 90s new activities start in Africa, ranging from healthcare to agriculture, from vocational training to microcredit, but always based on a collaborative strategy: the emphasis is on the self-development of the beneficiaries and on the self-sustainability of projects, which partners must be able to manage independently once the work of CELIM is completed.

  • Celestino Abbiati, Central African Republic, 1990
  • It is the exchange of simple life experiences that promotes dialogue and understanding between peoples, one small step at the time. True human promotion is serving our fellow human beings while respecting local culture and customs.
Marco visiting the African toy exhibition at the CeliMondo premises

Years 2000-2001

There is however awareness of the fact that a real development of the South without a change in mentality of the North is impossible.
2000 therefore saw the creation of CeliMondo, which will take the world into schools and people’s homes. In this educational space in the heart of Milan the NGO organizes educational courses and creative workshops for school groups and information sessions for all citizens.
The following year CELIM is also approved by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to carry out development education activities.

  • Mariangela Querin, supervisor in the educational field from 1993 to 2010
  • The journey is also an inner one, you have to shake off all prejudices and stereotypes.

After 2010 times are hard, CELIM undergoes a substantial downsizing, in terms of both activities and staff. In Italy the CeliMondo space is closed in 2012 due to lack of funding; the activities of Education to World Citizenship however continue in classrooms and communal spaces, with intercultural or Italian as a second language courses.
The staff going abroad, meanwhile, is increasingly more professional and qualified.

CELIM's large family also embraces the Balkans

Years 2014

CELIM blows 60 candles. In 60 years, more than 300 volunteers have gone abroad, to Africa in particular but also to Asia, South America and the Balkans. 60 years of commitment, projects and stories, inextricably linked to the lives of our volunteers.

  • Matteo Crovetto, president of CELIM from 1994 to 2015
  • The first volunteers were pioneers and heroes, they left without any protection, armed with enthusiasm and the will to make themselves available to their distant brothers. Today we are blowing out 60 candles and we are still committed to the same objectives with idealistic enthusiasm and strong reference values, but also with seriousness, commitment and new skills.


CELIM, Ambassadors of Milan in the world: all the interviews carried out for the 60th anniversary

Today CELIM is backed by hundreds of donors, supported by a group of figures from the academic, business and religious world who share the Association’s values ​​and guiding principles. It is supported by institutions, universities, companies and associations in Italy and in the countries in which it operates, aided by dozens of volunteers: people who believe in what we do and in how we do it.
CELIM is now part of FOCSIV-Volontari nel Mondo (Volunteers in the World), the largest federation of international Christian-inspired volunteer organizations, and CoLomba, the network of Lombardy NGOs.

Over the years, along with the transformation of its Structure – from a non-governmental association movement to non-governmental organisation – there has also been a change in the recipients, content and frequency of publication of CELIM’s magazine. Today it is sent to donors and supporters half-yearly, to bear witness with texts and pictures to what CELIM does, both in Italy and abroad.

CELIM is listed in Info Cooperazione, an authoritative point of reference in terms of reporting and transparency on NGOs and associations working in the field of co-operation and humanitarian aid.