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Kenya’s First Mockumentary Exposes Dark Side Of NGOs

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People have always wondered what impact, if any, NGOs have on the people they presume to help. Africa, as a whole, is practically infested with NGOs claiming to do this or the other. But are they making any positive impact?

The Samaritans is a new comedy TV series from Kenya, about an NGO that literally does nothing. The new mockumentary series, produced by Kenya-based Xeinium, profiles the fictitious relief organization Aid for Aid whose ambiguous mission is to “save Africa.” The show’s characters, who work out of a Kenyan field office, have no idea what that mission entails or how they’re supposed to go about fulfilling it. But what the characters do succeed in doing is exposing the dark underbelly of the nonprofit world. The show explores how funds are often wasted on extraneous expenses and how ill-equipped college grads are sent to spearhead major campaigns they can’t handle, “Samaritans” creator Hussein Kurji told Africa is a Country. For example, one character named Scott is an Ivy League graduate whose only prior experience in Africa was a six-week internship in Casablanca, Morocco, according to the show’s Kickstarter site.

Kurji told Africa is a Country that he was inspired to develop the show because there are more than 4,000 NGOs registered in Kenya and far too many untold stories exist from these groups.

What inspired you to create the series?

There are over 4,000 NGOs registered in Kenya, and over the years I’ve listened to the stories of friends who’ve worked for NGOs. One day I was asked to pitch a comedy series, and a combination of The Office plus NGOs stuck in my head. Maybe these crazy stories would make good comedy?

What’s the craziest story you’ve heard about an NGO?

I heard from someone in the US that an organization was having a charity auction to raise money for endangered rhinos and the prize for this charity auction was to go hunt a rhino in Namibia. [AIAC note: Yes people, this happened. You can even see it on the Colbert Report and CNN].

There is no end to the crazy stories. I think it kind of dawned on me when I was working at a five-star hotel here in Nairobi a few years ago that NGOs aren’t always what they seem. All these guys were gathered around eating lobster bisque and discussing how to reduce poverty. Something didn’t seem right.

How did you find the different actors?

We had an open casting call, and reached out to friends who spread the word online, as well as by word of mouth. Several of the actors aren’t career actors; for example the person who plays Scott has an NGO background. He’s worked mainly behind the scenes as a documentary filmmaker – he’s originally from England so he’s faking an American accent for us. We do have some professional actresses, such as the women who play Martha (Allison Kariuki), Suze (Sarah Hassan) and Elizabeth (Fridah Muhindi). In fact the character of “Driver” has acted in Out Of Africa.

What do you hope to achieve with the show?

We’re the first Kenyan mockumentary, and we’re pretty happy with the traction the show has gotten so far. We are aiming at creating local content for international consumption and we hope that we can find co-production partners and networks globally to work with us on this journey.

I’d like to go on for as long as I can. We know we’re critiquing a “big machine”, and we don’t expect the show to change anything overnight – but we’d like to start a dialogue, to get people talking and thinking about in what contexts aid works and for the organizations that are broken, how do you fix them? We’re also going to touch on scenarios and issues in the show that are beyond just NGOs, looking at broader issues around international development.

You can be a part of the Aid for Aid team and help them achieve their goal of completing an entire season in two easy ways:

– Have a great NGO story? Then you can submit it (anonymously) through their contact page.

– Pledge to the Production – all funds raised will go toward the production of future episodes, so they can bring you more! Visit their Pledge page to find out more.

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