A Decade In and Out of Humanitarian Aid

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Jessica Alexander talks about life as a foreign aid worker. She arrived in Rwanda in the aftermath of the 1994 genocide as an idealistic intern, but the experience in the field was messy, chaotic, and difficult—but she was hooked. Her memoir Chasing Chaos: My Decade In and Out of Humanitarian Aid traces her personal journey from naïve newcomer to critical realist.


Jessica Alexander

Comments [6]

Peter Talbot from Harrison NJ

Vacuous blather. Ms. A is perfectly representative of the management-by -helicopter approach most NGO and nearly all bistatal aid in the west has taken for a hundred years. (MBH=land, kick up dust, take off) Not one word about key performance metrics and organizational issues: e.g.: NGO's with lower percentages of recurrent admin expenses should be preferred over those who only provide pennies on the dollar in real aid. NGO's with higher percentages of local staffing and managerial involvement are to be preferred to avoid making work benefits temporary. NGO's with punctual programs preferred to vague benefits. NGO's worked by religious organizations and sects must be reviewed carefully for long term commitment to their host countries, etc. All she said was: give money, not stuff (good idea) and, don't get upset if some of the money goes to living expenses and laptops for aid workers (ambivalent on this one: depends on productivity as I noted above). Not a word regarding the need for local language capability, with which Ms. A seems not to be concerned or did I miss something?

In fact, NGO's often do more lasting damage to local personnel, economies and infrastructure than the temporary benefits they are tasked to achieve. They are easily "played" by both suppliers (globally) and local intermediaries, and they tend to attract workers like Ms. A, (or worse) who was candidly more concerned with a string of overseas romances than with the details of the organizations she represented. I certainly do not recommend reading nor researching her motives or modus operandi further by purchasing the book touted in this very disappointing segment.


Blaming the Haitians is like blaming a starving stray dog for biting people: it's a meaningless exercise. You feed it or call the pound. If you're really dedicated, you find out who bought and then abandoned it and fine them. The history of US madness in Haiti is such that the US government and people deserve to be fined billions to set right what they have destroyed irrespective of earthquakes and local tyrants.

Oct. 18 2013 11:10 AM

Ms. Alexander puts some guy on a plane, apparently unaccompanied, with 10's of thousands of dollars, who then, unsurprisingly, disappears and her conclusion is ... lah-di-dah, stuff happens?
I wonder how blithe she would be if she were personally responsible for all that money? Or how much ended up back in her pockets in return for looking the other way?
No wonder people are cynical about donations to aid agencies.

Oct. 16 2013 01:00 PM

If Miss Alexander won't name corrupt NGOs specifically, the whole exercise is in vain.

Oct. 16 2013 12:38 PM
Amy from Manhattan

Could "inappropriate" donated clothing be sold--maybe at a charity auction?--to raise money for the things that are actually needed in these crises?

I appreciate the work Ms. Alexander & others do in emergencies & the follow-up periods.

Oct. 16 2013 12:36 PM
john from office

Book should be renamed, "Crazy white girl avoids being raped and killed". She sounds like a thrill seeker.

Peter: When do you place any blame on the Haitians??

Oct. 16 2013 12:35 PM
Peter Talbot from Harrison NJ

Aid to Haiti, and the entire history of American interventionism there is the single most depressing story of unrelenting stupidity in the pantheon of US foreign policy. I listen with eagerness to hear what Ms. Alexander has learned regarding such things as: killing pigs that were immune to swine flu to satisfy American bureaucrats, USAID action plans that depend corvee (forced labor) to build and rebuild bad roads with dirt, lack of investment in container based temp housing after the earthquake because some FEMA dufus decided that 8x8x40 steel boxes weren't earthquake proof. I could go on but my spleen is showing. I have profound knowledge of the behavior of our mission there going back many years, and with some exceptions it varies between sad and disgusting with occasional side trips to surreal.

Oct. 16 2013 09:12 AM

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