A marketplace of possibilities

Yesterday’s erratic weather couldn’t keep me away from the Maailma Kylässä festival that is being held in the centre of Helsinki. The “World Village” celebration is an annual gala of multi-ethnic music, literature and food – and is fun.

It is also the largest exhibition in Finland of the work of non-governmental associations working locally and in international development and advocacy. The Finnish government is supportive of NGO and many of the groups have partner agencies or projects in the developing world. In the Marketplace of Possibilities, one could see evidence of many, many projects on everything from drop toilets to comic books.

Which of course leads to the oft repeated but yet inadequately answered question “Why isn’t international development aid working?”

But I will not discuss that question here, instead I’d rather applaud the work of the volunteers who find time and expend effort to try to improve the lives of the poor and marginalised using the tools and funding to which they have access. These small voluntary groups have endured despite trends in international development aid, in spite of Paris and Dakar Declarations, World Bank reports and etc, ad nauseam, ad infinitum.

The work they do garners little publicity; most of the accolades are reserved for larger international NGO who can finance media campaigns resplendent with pens, brochures, badges and photographs of smiling beneficiaries.

Also present at the festival were Amnesty International, who have often relied on volunteers and public participation. In search of freedom for Mexican and Chinese activists and dissidents, a launch of balloons skyward by the gathered audience somehow may help secure their release. More likely it may send a message to oppressive governments that the population of a small country are observing the situation where politicians refuse to engage.

In the meantime, international donor nations are reneging on their overseas financing promises, berating one another for unrealised aspirations, tip-toeing around China and once more researching new global development models. 

Photographs: Samuli Leminen

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