Category Archives: Miscellaneous

Lives of the Saints – International hardship duty in Chad.

Bredjing, a refugee camp in eastern Chad, close to the border with the Darfur region of Sudan. Twelve camps in the region house a quarter of a million Sudanese who have fled to the area and are now caught between warring armies. Photograph by Christoph Bangert.

The New Yorker has a lengthy article about aid workers in Chad.  @aidworkersntwk Twittered this a few hours ago.  I worked with Yvan in Chad in the early days of 2004.  Like others in my line of work I arrived alone at 3am with a backpack and a hotel reservation to set-up operations before our advance team arrived a week later.  Ah, fond memories of brutal heat, great food and lots of sand.  But are we really saints?  When I have time I’ll read it in full.  From the article:


Everything is fine, until the moment when it is not. And when that moment comes it can be very quick and very bad.

This is what Aiméry Mbounkap tells me on a Saturday afternoon in November of 2007. Mbounkap works as a site planner for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. He is a robustly built man of about thirty, an architect by training and saturnine by disposition. We are sitting in the common room of a U.N.H.C.R. field office situated on the eastern frontier of the African nation of Chad, thirty-five miles from the Darfur border. Along that border, the U.N.H.C.R. oversees the operation of twelve refugee camps with a population of nearly two hundred and fifty thousand Sudanese who have fled to Chad to escape death, mayhem, and ethnic cleansing.

Read on…

Innovation in the Humanitarian Sector

Paul Currion over at has undertaken the difficult task of trying to understand why innovation in the humanitarian sector is as evasive as it is essential.  We have an evil relationship with innovation and more often than not we fail to innovate at exactly those times when we should be doing so.  Classically, this is because 1) we don’t have the cash to innovate 2) we’re distracted with the latest emergency or 3) management is dumber than a box of rocks and sits on the best and the brightest ideas while force feeding their own.  And at those times when we do have a clear shot at getting something done the pickings are so slim we usually end up batting around a few ideas and then give up and going home.

Paul is trying to figure out what works and could use a hand in doing so.  He’s looking for ideas and feedback.  For my part I don’t think staff turnover is a crucial issue.  Innovation is a process, a religion.  It is something that happens over time and if you don’t start and then don’t stop you are never going to truly innovate.  You’ll simply have a smattering of bright ideas that, as Paul says, wither on the vine.  True innovation will resist any counter flow, weather any storm and evolve as a result of these challenges.  The main impediment to innovation is us.  As long as we take the easy way out and continue to make grand, sweeping and ineffective gestures rather than small, sensible ones we will continue to find ourselves stuck in the doldrums and wondering what happened.  The world will never be saved by massive systems.  What is needed is one small but very good start.

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(This was written after midnight so please pardon the fuzzy logic.)

MSF’s Condition: Critical

Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) has launched a new initiative called Condition: Critical aimed at raising awareness of the situation in eastern Congo.

The site has an incredibly moving slideshow with audio from the field and an informative narration.  As a father it is hard to watch.  I used to have thicker skin when I was in the field with MSF but all that changed with the birth of my son.

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‘Pray The Devil Back To Hell’

For Those Who Want to know has a link to an AfricanLoft article about the movie Pray The Devil Back To Hell.  It looks like an incredible movie that highlights the struggle of Liberian women during the conflict in that country.  The music alone makes me want to go back.  You can download the theme song “Djoyigbe” here.  It’s great.

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The Bottom of the Pyramid

“These unhappy times call for the building of plans that rest upon the forgotten, the unorganized but the indispensable units of economic power…that build from the bottom up and not from the top down, that put their faith once more in the forgotten man at the bottom of the economic pyramid.”

U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt in his April 7, 1932 radio address, The Forgotten Man

PTSD and the aid worker

Michael Kleinman over at has a nice write-up on the impact of PTSD on aid workers titled Dealing, or not Dealing – Part 2.  I know first hand how when things go wrong in the field the memories can stick with you for a very long time.  A valuable reality check for those of you thinking that field life is glam and for that other set that doesn’t feel quite right following their last field gig.  Be sure not to miss Part 1.

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Mini-UAV’s used to collect HIV/AIDS and TB samples in remote areas of South Africa

This is about as wild and innovative as it gets.  Another great project being developed locally.  The National Health Laboratory Services of South Africa is using mini-UAV’s to collect HIV/AIDS and TB samples from remote health posts in the region.  Here is the complete write-up from the NHLS website and a New Scientist video:

Read on…

[via, DIY Drones, and Timbuktu Chronicles]