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An Unflinching Look at the Lives of Aid Workers, "Chasing Misery" Around the World

A new collection of essays gives us a rare glimpse of life on the front lines of global humanitarian response.



Most people, if given the opportunity, run away from danger and conflict.  Most of us, when presented even with just news about human suffering, are tempted to close our eyes and ears, to look away, to find something– anything– else to think about.

There are, remarkably, a group of  brave and committed souls who run toward it– people who are compelled by the desire to provide comfort, mediate disputes, and, when possible, to help rebuild.  Rarely do we get a first-hand perspective of what it is like to be in these difficult places, trying make sense of the profound human suffering and bring some semblence of order out of the chaos. 



A new book, entitled Chasing Misery, gives us a first-hand perspective of 21 women– strong, talented, vulnerable, sophisticated, and intelligent women– who are serving on the front lines of humanitarian response in Haiti, Syria, Pakistan, Darfur, and other areas of conflict, crisis, heartbreak, and disaster.    


A ten-year veteran of humantarian response, Kelsey Hoppe lead the effort to collect,  present, and self-publish this anthology.


The idea for the title came from a conversation that Hoppe had while she was in Indonesia, exhausted and emotionally drained after a long day helping with the 2004 Tsunami relief operation.  "What a strange life this is.  What a strange profession," she observed to a friend, "...chasing human misery around the world as we go from one emergency response to the next."


The resulting anthology is truly a labor of love on the part of everyone who took part in its creation.  The stories, beautifully illustrated with striking black and white photographs, are at times funny and at times heartbreaking, and often a mixture of both at the same time, as in this recollection from refugee expert Erin Patrick when she found herself stuck in Chad during an outbreak of violence:  

"There was nothing else to do, and sitting up alone in the dark waiting for armed robbery is just no fun.   So I went to bed."


The intention of the book, according to Hoppe, is not "to make aid work look glamorous or to suggest that aid workers are great people doing great things."     Rather, through the essays and photos, readers catch a glimpse of what's it's like to be a human in some of the world's most difficult places.    Contributors are saying, "Look, here’s a sliver of human existence full of suffering and misery, and also joy, and laughter, and amazing people. This is what it’s like to be alive.”


One thing the book is not, says Kelsey, is an argument for or against humantiarian aid.  If this collection of stories raises more questions about whether and how humantarian relief should be done than it answers, then it is fulfilling its purpose.


Chasing Misery will be officially launched on March 8th – International Women’s Day – and is now available on Amazon and Kindle. 


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