Saturday, June 25, 2011

Book Report: The Crisis Caravan by Linda Polman

An inspiring friend (who is mentioned in this blog more times than her humble self will ever admit) gave me this book to read a few months back. I don’t write many book reports but I thought this one was worth sharing on this blog. It is a pretty fascinating read and has provoked many conversations and email chatter amongst friends involved in service work.

I saw this book as a cautionary tale and also, a rallying call. It offered a wide perspective and global insight into issues and concerns that are often viewed at close range. The book has some harsh words for na├»ve, situationaly blind aid projects. The larger effects of even small generosities are exposed – sometimes as good and sometimes, as unintentionally harmful. The book does not dismiss or belittle the altruistic intentions in the face of human struggle, it simply points out that there is room for improvement.

The book encourages attempts to achieve a broader perspective, better communication (shocking I know!), and coordinated, goal driven efforts in situations where the scatter-shot approach is often the only approach. It asks us to be better at working with each other, defining clear obtainable objectives with measurable progress and outcomes. It asks us to help re-build crippled infra-structure, encourage sustainability and avoid areas of overlap. It asks us to concentrate on giving a hand up instead of a hand out. All of this is harder to do than to just throw money or physical aid at a situation but all of this is so much more empowering for people effected by natural and political disaster.

I invite comments on this book – and I understand it is an unbalanced viewpoint – but one worth examining and spending some time with. The world is smaller than we think, and the things that we do have an impact, ultimately on all of us.