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Middle East delegation meets non-profit at CSU

November, 10 2011

By David Edwards

An international delegation of Middle Eastern and North African human rights NGOs met with local non-profit organizations to discuss some of the challenges they face in mobilizing support for their causes at Cleveland State on Nov. 4.

The delegation consisted of 12 representatives from various elements of civil society within the Middle East and North Africa.

The workshop, NGO Management and Best Practices, focused on the history of human and civil rights in the U.S. The discussion also focused on how the NGOs garner support for their causes and advocacy work with the public.

One of the main issues the group discussed was the use of technology. According to Steve Killpack, the coordinator for the Healthy Fathering Collaborative of Greater Cleveland, there is a technology gap based on income.

Some people in low-income communities do not have a personal computer, so they have to rely on libraries to gain access to the Internet. Killpack said that is why most of his communication is door-to-door.

“Technology is always an issue,” said Jean Ann Sekarak, managing director for International Partners in Mission.

The Arabic delegation has used technology in different ways to promote their organization. The Tunisian representative said that NGOs should link their websites to bloggers.

One of the representatives from Egypt said that the focus on technology can distract them from working with people they aim to help.

The delegation also discussed some of the problems working with their respective governments. For example, many NGOs have to undergo a vigorous application process to be recognized by the government.

Some problems are more severe. For example, the representative from Mauritania said that he was imprisoned along with 32 other dissidents for trying to abolish slavery in his country.

Another common issue is funding. The representative for the Palestinian territories stated that Palestine’s economy is different because of its reliance on foreign aid.

He said that much of the support that comes from international NGOs is “conditional” and not reflective of the needs of the community.

“NGOs are created for the needs of the people, yet those same people are not really giving enough strength for the NGO to be self-sustainable,” said Sarah Arth, an Anthropology student.

“Funding provides power differentials,” Sekarak said.
Arth said that she enjoyed the event and wanted to do more research so that she can make a difference. “Being blind to these issues won’t help anything, just because it won’t personally affect your life doesn’t mean it is not worth fighting for,” Arth said.

The program was a part of the Cleveland Council of World Affairs International Visitors Program. The program is a part of the State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program.

The delegation was part of a State Department project called Human Rights Advocacy and Awareness.

The delegation will spend three weeks traveling the U.S.