'They All Just Run for Posters.' (Visitors to United Nations-Sponsored Activities)

Article excerpt

"The most interesting people I have met this year - a group of Chinese without even the basic knowledge of the English language. We could not speak, but at least we could smile. And we smiled, intensively, politely, for ten, endless minutes."

As she answers my question, the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) officer, Judy Castellino, is still in a good mood. And so are all her colleagues at the eighth annual United Nations Information Fair: a unique chance to get in touch with people and the work of the most widely spread Organization on earth. Twenty nine representatives from as many United Nations programmes, specialized agencies, offices and departments are on hand to meet with the noisy, enthusiastic school children and the fussy senior people who crowd the stands. The atmosphere is frantic. Catching a glimpse of the short films looping on five screens, visitors' attention is drawn by the colourful scenery of the Fair. They take a stroll in the lobby in search of unforgettable souvenirs, half curious, half delighted, with brochures and booklets filling up their paper bags.

A disappointed representative from the Department of Economic and Social Affairs at her first Fair tells me: "They all just run for posters. An economist is always available for those who want to know more about our projects and activities. At the moment, he just sits as nobody seems interested."

"Only one visitor out of ten ask questions on specific topics", echoes the International Labour Organization representative.

Overloaded with booklets and with an increasing sense of guilt (I'm gathering material for the article ... who would ever believe such a poor lie?), I move to the Cybercafe. Making its debut at the Fair just this year, the "UN webcorner" has attracted lots of visitors. "It has been a success", the CyberSchoolBus creator explains to me. …