Why Greg Mortensen’s shame is on us

3cupsofteaNow that self-made humanitarian and “stones-into-schools” false prophet Greg Mortenson has been ordered to repay more than $1-million to the charity he founded, exploited and financially mismanaged, it’s as good a time as any to assess the disgraced Three Cups of Tea author and his crumbling empire of goodness.

Here’s a quick recap of Mortenson’s (true) journey:

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Jenin’s Freedom Theatre marks anniversary of founder’s murder

Juliano Mer-Khamis
(photo courtesy Freedom Theatre)

Today marks the one-year anniversary of the murder of Juliano Mer-Khamis — the Israeli actor and co-founder of Palestine’s Freedom Theatre — who died in ahail of gunfire from still-unknown assailants on April 4, 2011, just a few steps from the door of his beloved children’s drama centre in the West Bank refugee camp of Jenin.

Juliano’s murder has been blamed on radical Islamists who may have opposed the Freedom Theatre’s co-educational curriculum of dance, drama, street art and photography, and the elements of cooperation and non-violent peace-building inherent in the joint Palestinian-Israeli, grassroots project.

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FINCA: Exploitative Fundraising or Successful Direct Marketing?

FINCAdmLast week I received an envelope in the mail from the Foundation for International Community Assistance, or FINCA, which consisted of three photographs of women presenting a form of livelihood to the camera, and a letter from FINCA president and CEO Rupert W. Scofield informing me about “micro-entrepreneurship,” “village banks,” and how my “donation of $50 or more” can empower poor women like “Dominga” and “Robinah” (not pictured), whose brief tales of former woe and current hope are offered up as proof of FINCA’s commitment and success.

As an experienced communications manager and advisor in the non-profit/NGO sector, I’m very curious about these kinds of promotions. When I see something like this, there are 5 things that immediately come to mind:

1) Who are the women (and the child) in the photographs?
2) Who is the photographer(s)?
3) Under what circumstances were the photographs taken?
4) Does the letter inform me of how my donation is managed/governed?
5) Am I encouraged to seek out more information before becoming a donor?

So how did FINCA do with respect to these five benchmarks?

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Adventures in Advenience: The Return of a Photographic Moment

cheb_water405Nine years ago this month I dropped anchor in Tunisia for a six-month contract teaching English at a school in the seaside city of Sousse, packing along with me little besides my old Canon single lens reflex, an 18mm wide-angle lens and a few dozen rolls of Ilford FP4.

I worked six days a week, so when that seventh day came round I was on a bus or a train somewhere into countryside as far as I could get. But it wasn’t till shortly before my departure that I was able to devote an entire week to a voyage into the Sahara, at least to its border towns and not-too-distant oases.

It was a hermetic experience: late May in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains, the Chott el-Djerid salt flats, and beyond them the Sahara — with their mirages, siestas, scorpions and utter lack of tourists — is conducive to isolation and meditation, and I found myself subsisting on a diet of bread, water, the kindness of strangers and contemplations of photography.

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