These organizations traverse the vast international development landscape of Colorado. They are involved in activities in sometimes very remote and dangerous places in Asia, the African continent, and Latin America.
For good or for bad–they are called NGOs for a reason. They provide a special service to the communities in which they operate. However, their operations are not the prerogative of governments around the world.
In the United States, they contribute about 8% of the Gross Domestic Product(GDP), employ about 10% of the workforce, and generate approximately 750 billion in annual revenues, according to the Southern California Center for Non Profit Management.
Even while they are supported by governments, businesses, and foundations, they are established and run by ordinary citizens with a different set of objectives that are driven by the public good.
Not many people in the community understand the purpose of NGOs, not even the tasks involved and the opportunities that abound in the business.
On January 20, the leaders of some of these organizations turned out at the University of Denver (DU) International House for what was an NGO symposium, a gathering of organizations of its kind in the area.
Organized by the Africa Initiatives and Student’s for Africa at DU’s Joseph Korbel School of International Relations, they came with staff members and volunteers, to showcase their work to the public.
“Twenty-one NGOs, with “footprints” in both Colorado and Africa, were in attendance as exhibitors. The purpose was to introduce broader D.U. community to these organizations, and, to include folks who aren’t part of the D.U. community as well,” said Professor Peter VanArsdale who is the coordinator of Africa Initiatives and Students for Africa at DU.
“Our impact is intended to be pragmatic, not theoretic, and to afford folks who’d like to get more involved, the opportunity to do so. Some of the students who attended will follow up with promising organizations, hopefully, receive pro bono internships. Enhanced volunteerism is our broader goal, such that partnerships WITH Africans are engaged. “
Going around, the rooms were embedded with educational materials–photos, posters, flyers, and business cards, spelling out the activities of the organizations and ways for getting in touch. The atmosphere brimmed with a talk on subjects ranging from water, hygiene, and sanitation to education and farming conditions in such places as Malawi, South Sudan, and Senegal.
For these NGOs, a meeting that involves other NGOs is a part of the business. The business is not just that of raising money for what sometimes may seem like a thankless job, but an ongoing process of creating awareness, telling others what it is that they do and why.
The event was an eye-opener for Mamay Worku, a resident of Denver and a native of Ethiopia. Worku runs two organizations, Women of Africa Alliance for Solutions, a women’s empowerment group with an international focus as well as BLR Incorporated, an assisted-living business that takes care of the elderly in the country of Ethiopia.
“Through the event, I learned that there are so many different organizations doing different things. Sometimes you don’t hear about this,” she said. “I was able to connect with other organizations that have related objectives. It was an opportunity to make informed decisions.”
Beyond networking, others wanted to learn about the issues, expand their horizon, and involve the community in their work.
That is why Carol Nussbaumer, a speech-language pathologist with the Marion Medical Mission which works in Malawi, attended the event. Nussbaumer said prior to the event she knew nothing about the International Studies Program at DU’s Korbel School. But as a result of the symposium, she learned about the bigger picture of things going on in East Africa.
From organizations such as The Mango Project which is fighting child malnutrition in Uganda to the Village Health Partnership which is working to prevent maternal and neonatal death during childbirth in Ethiopia, they spent the evening talking with students and with each other about the challenges of their work.
Back in the African continent, individually and collectively, among other thing things, these organizations give medical help where it is needed, educate the less- fortunate, and they sometimes complement and supplement the work that African governments are doing.
In other cases, especially where governments and institutions have failed, they come in with much-needed assistance, preventing the worse from happening.
To see a photo album from this event, follow this link