It has been well over a year now for me at this job and I have found it to be nothing short of an eye opener for me, working in the conservation NGO circle. One interesting aspect of this job is the occasional travel to our project sites. Seeing new places and just getting away from the hectic 8-5 raucous affair that is life in the city.  Breaking this monotony is refreshing and enriching.

It’s then that every so often I get to meet some genuine people out there who are keeping it real, putting in the hard yards to help out their communities. Be it either in education or in administering health care to the sick and needy, at often times sacrificing their own comfort for others, impassive to the pressing demands of fast money, televangelists,  bubblegum music and the pursuit of opulence evident in urban centres. To them the bare essentials are what really matters.

Chris and the syllabus chart he had drawn up himself which is comprised of 19 characters out of the 26 letters of the English alphabet.

One such person I recently bumped into is Christopher Asiurina of Ogana village near Afore in the Managalas Plateau of Oro Province. Chris happens to be a Sunday school teacher, a community youth leader, a community basic constable (CBC), a peer educator and an adult literacy teacher – all volunteer work.

Going as far as Grade 8, he happens to be the only person from his clan and village to reach such a level of education. In his incessant quest to help out his community and church activities he went out of his way to buy 2 guitars for his village church congregation out of what little money he could find.

His drive was given a boost when he was taken up by Anglicare StopAIDS to undergo literacy training to translate HIV/AIDS information material into his local dialect. Using this knowledge he was able to draw up a syllabus chart for his dialect which he uses to conduct adult literacy classes in Ogana and Afore village where he’s already had a classroom built. He has 19 students, all of whom are within the 30 to 40 years age group and his initiative has enabled them to go on to read their local language bible.

His adult literacy program has had such a profound impact on the villagers, he said “Fest taim ol ridim tok ples blo ol yet na ol karai” (they cried when they were able to read in their own language for the first time).

More people from surrounding communities have since expressed their interest for him to conduct similar classes in their villages but he is hampered by need for stationary supplies and training for his 4 volunteer assistants.

This I believe is my cue. I have been looking for such opportunities to tap into to reach directly to the locals on our project site with our message of conservation and environmental awareness.  I have been fortunate enough to meet this young men and I am looking to collaborate with him in getting these vital information to a level where our village people can understand at their level.

Communicating the triumphs and tragedies of the unfolding story of man’s ability to destroy or preserve his environment is perhaps the most important journalistic endeavor of our times.
Rosemary Martin
(Director – Reuters Foundation)

I still remember a Sprite ad campaign that came out during my high school days back in the 90’s. The slogan read “Image is nothing, thirst is everything. Obey your thirst” The irony in that slogan was that image was everything in pulling that marketing campaign off.

Image is still everything in business, industry and culture today. But with enhanced user accessibility to information through break-throughs in information and communication technology (ICT), the battle to be heard and seen has reached a whole new level. From the  local supermarket ‘s “Clearance Sale” flyer to massive presidential campaigns, their sales pitch is driven by carefully manipulated image with the aim to reach many and achieve the desired results.

In essence everybody is selling something. It may be a product, a service, an agenda or perhaps even an idea. But strip away all demographic boundaries and preferential alliances and you are left with one target that they are all pitching to. The public eye.

Most non-government organisations (NGO), faith based organisations (FBO), civil societies and other similar organisations and associations have however been more modest in their public relations drive. Perhaps it’s due to the absence of a profit motive in their target goals. Or perhaps ‘awareness’ is a less brutal a term compared to ‘marketing’. Then again there’s also the glaring reality of financial constraints and budgetary requirements from their various benefactors.

However, in contrast to profit-driven ventures, these non-profit making bodies are selling something of a much higher calling. They sell something of more significance than mere acidic beverages which in the long run may actually be detrimental to one’s health and wellbeing anyway.

These organisations and their respective community based organisations (CBO) out there actually live and deal with the common people on the ground. They promote improved livelihoods through effective and sustainable developmental initiatives. They encourage gender equality by working with communities and churches to empower women with knowledge and skill to overcome barriers and allow them to go into business enterprises. They fight for the rights of the little people who cannot stand up against the tyranny of corporate greed and corruption. They raise awareness to critical issues of both local and global significance. In effect, these entities actually get results and get to see turnarounds from their efforts.

It is therefore imperative that NGOs get in on the act to further promote their work and what they stand for to the public. These organisations need more work in their image and branding department to get more recognition so that they can be just as noticeable as their international counterparts like Greenpeace and that big Panda. They have to make themselves and the message they proclaim relevant to all and sundry. They need to rethink, re-evaluate and re-strategise how they are portrayed to the general populace in order to garner more support, promote participation and raise the profile to  pressing issues like Climate Change, HIV/AIDS, TB, Corruption and Law & Order to name a few.

To effectively do this all communication and information disseminating tools available at their disposal should be fully utilized. This includes the more traditional means like posters, brochures, newsletters, banners, radio and television spots as well as internet technology; a tool that is far-reaching and more readily available today to Papua New Guineans than 5 years ago.

To be or not to be seen is definitely not the question to ponder on today. Rather what can be done to be seen and heard – and effectively – should be the thought for consideration.

...End...

Nichson Piakal
Partners in Conservation.