September 21, 2007

Strange Encounters of the NGO Kind

Under the baleful watch of
PANOS Pictures that encircled the room, distinguished guests and honourary patrons and trickled in at a torturous pace. I'd made the mistake of showing up on time and didn't know anyone. For the hyped-up launch of my host organization's five-year strategic plan, it was disconcerting that I, the lowly intern, was the model of punctuality.

Still, it gave me time to think. Spacing out during some vapid chit-chat with board members and other stuffy types, I was hypnotized by the images. For all PANOS' wishy-washy rhetoric about building media capacity and providing platforms for the marginalized, their photos are visceral - the stuff of World Press Awards.

What would their subjects think of us, assembled in a swanky hotel lobby getting toasty from the open bar, proclaiming how to go about their development? About NGOs who preferred glad-handing with donors to getting their hands dirty with training the journalists who would tell their stories? 15 percent 'administration' fees? The entire African aid regime which seems, more often than not, an exercise in futility?

I excused myself and, nabbing a peanut chicken satay and glass of white wine, wandered around ruminating in the photo gallery. I felt a tap on my shoulder a minute later - my colleagues had arrived and wanted me to meet some Scandinavian donors. I reluctantly went back to work.

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