Not my job…

7 Apr

This post is no longer available on this blog.

This post is now part of J.’s book, Letters Left Unsent, available on Amazon (click the image below to visit the Amazon purchase page).


26 Responses to “Not my job…”

  1. Tracey Hunter 7 April, 2011 at 5:44 pm #

    Love it!

  2. tio 7 April, 2011 at 5:54 pm #

    You go Sir, slap them in the face!🙂

  3. TB 7 April, 2011 at 6:28 pm #


    • Amy 7 April, 2011 at 6:50 pm #

      I find it interesting that you heavily criticize organizations on your blog, yet you can’t take feedback from people who disagree with you. This is a public domain. If you don’t want to hear such feedback then perhaps you should disable your comments.

      • J. 7 April, 2011 at 6:52 pm #

        I can take it. And I do. On a very regular basis.

        Bring the hate. I don’t care, really. But do your damn research and know WTF you’re talking about, first.

  4. Saundra 7 April, 2011 at 6:45 pm #

    I feel your pain J. And even though my blog is dedicated to educating the average person, I get so many comments from people that have not read and thought about my posts or even the comments that came before theirs. In each post I link to related posts, research, articles, etc. but many of them don’t bother reading those either. They spent a few weeks out on a voluntourism project hugging orphans, delivering shoes to orphans, or doing both and that’s enough to convince them it’s the right thing to do. They don’t see the larger picture or even the consequences of the help they were giving because they’re their for such a short period of time, don’t speak the local language, and had an enriching personal experience. Therefore they’re dead set on defending the programs they’ve participated in and get very angry at me for not agreeing with them. And, of course, the charges of elitism or Ivory tower are hauled out.

    • TB 7 April, 2011 at 6:58 pm #

      Saundra, I take every opportunity to direct people to your blog and ask them to educate themselves just a little bit. Thank you to both you and J for being so honest and trying to get people to understand what aid work is really like.

  5. solemu 7 April, 2011 at 7:18 pm #

    Go @Talesfromthhood go!

  6. Sam Gardner 7 April, 2011 at 10:10 pm #

    You are absolutely right to be blunt. Sometimes I would argue for more respect, but in the end, you are right.

    It is so difficult to explain: these fantastic people, prepared to do everything, just to help, it is not about them. Indeed, people are dying and mostly we know what can be done, and who should do it.

    It is not you, it is not what you are doing. Sorry.

    You can help in other ways.

    But also the “good organisations” get side-tracked to go with the flow, and invest in what is visible and politically correct, instead of just doing good aid. it is not about your organisation. Do good aid or get out of the way.

  7. Penny Sunshine 8 April, 2011 at 12:19 am #

    J, I think you DO express the views of many real aid workers. Can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had with other aid workers about how Tales from the Hood nailed it again. The fact that you will contradict yourself shows you’re honest, growing and a complex character. How dull it would be if you weren’t (it would also imply that you were dishonest or maybe a robot). Keep out the pom poms for good aid (though I’d recommend avoiding the cheerleading mini-skirts). Rock on!

  8. Samantha Burton 8 April, 2011 at 12:22 am #

    As a young professional dipping my toes into the international development realm (and trying to decide whether I really want to dive in), I have found blogs like yours, Saundra’s, Alanna’s and Michael Keizer’s to be invaluable.

    I’ve spent the past few years studying development and gaining practical experience through volunteerships and internships. In all this time, I’ve found that people I’ve encountered who are the best at their jobs–and from whom I’ve learned the most–are those who do not shy away from being critical of the aid/development machine.

    These people are not cynics; in fact, to continue doing the work that they (and you) do while carrying the weight of first-hand experience and knowledge about the multitude of instances where aid/development projects do *not* work as planned, I think that you all must be the most staunch of optimists.

    But in an industry so dependent on donor funding and public support, letting the masses continue to think that aid and development work is easy leaves the field treading water, just barely keeping its head above the waves.

    We desperately need more voices like yours–knowledgeable, critical and fearless–to continue to paint a more realistic picture of the aid and development realms: This is hard work. It’s complex. Overheads are expensive and less than sexy, but they’re vital. That’s because not just anyone can “do” development or aid; it requires skill and expertise. And it *can* be done wrong.

    So, thank you (and your fellow bloggers!) for continuing to challenge the status quo and putting up with all the flack from people who don’t really want to know better.

    There’s a whole generation of young people (including myself) considering pursuing professions in aid and development who are better equipped to foster good practices–and inspired to keep at it, even when (or, perhaps, especially because) bad practices seem the norm–because of what we have learned from you.

  9. maria 8 April, 2011 at 1:36 am #

    hello anonimous aid worker🙂
    I’ve being follwowing you for several weeks, but as I was in cuba recently I dont think my comments to your posts went through…loved your post on divorcing aid.

    I am a 34 yrs old woman, former humanitarian worker (just 4 missions, two years on “the field”, not like 20 yrs experience either eh?). I am “former” because I was recently fired from one of the biggest and more respected INGO on the planet after 3 weeks of field coordination, for being honest, courageous, professional with my team and truthful about “aid” to my head of mission. I was divorcing the sector some years ago but it seems I cant get jobs elesewhere. and they I get fired. hum.

    anyway, wanted to say that discovering your blog was soothing. You do really say what we think, its truthful and great to read because you’re realistic but not bitter, frequently funny (but not light about grave issues), never silly or ignorant, and always exact. exact. Reading you is like, yes! exactly! I like your way of writing and its warm in a way because I dont feel alone in my perspective. What you say is what there is. Maybe there’s more, but what you mention is definitely there. It takes only 2 years and 4 INGOs to see. Maybe people criticising your view should get a bit more experience.

    I am going definitely away from field humanitarian aid if I can (working on that), because I can’t take anymore its refusal to auto-criticise and analyse its own efficiency (which is leading to bad aid and practices too frequently for me), but its been an important part of my life and I’ll continue reading you. tanks for being there!

  10. angelica 8 April, 2011 at 8:07 am #

    although I agree with a lot of what you say here, and I do think that aid continues to be very controversial, politicized, and difficult to measure impact and therefore to know what works and doesn’t (and don’t get me started on lack of knowledge management and accountability…) but I do wonder why we all tend to focus on the negative and frustrating stuff more…

    • J. 8 April, 2011 at 11:35 am #

      Angelica, first, thank you for commenting. In response, I wonder aloud whether we do, really, focus more on the negative? I don’t know if it’s even possible to compare and quantify the “negative messaging” versus “positive messaging” (what I call the “happy propoganda”), I but suspect that many of us (aid bloggers) go negative subconsciously because we feel as if the postive is so overwhelmingly represented in formal NGO communications and PR stuff.

      To some extent blogs like this one represent a weapon of the weak. As Emily very correctly points out below, anything that even remotely approaches serious questioning of NGO orthodoxy is seen and treated in-house as disloyalty to the brand and mission. Formal communications, including branded blogs, coming out of NGOs are happy propoganda almost without exception. And while on one hand I can understand why the decisions to only feed happy propoganda to the public are made the way they are, on the other hand it feels and very often is the case that forums like this – informal, private blogs, often anonymous, not associated with a particular NGO brand – are the only space where another point of view can be expressed.

  11. maureen 8 April, 2011 at 9:45 am #

    Been reading your blog for a while and have learned a ton, including the incorporation of the word “dumbassery” into my vocabulary.:) My husband and I have eventual plans to resume aid work in Sudan sometime soon and your posts always give me a lot to think about in that regard. Keep up the good work and the great writing.

  12. Emily 8 April, 2011 at 11:01 am #

    Hear ye, J.

    Angelica, I read (and sometimes write) enough glossy reports about the positive and smooth sides of aid.

    I talk up the work we’re doing to donors and potential ‘corporate partners’ on a far too frequent basis.

    With my professional hat on I nod, I smile and talk about ‘overcoming challenges’, ‘working around barriers’ and dish out cases studies of feel-good stories.

    In a forum like this? VENT. It’s a freakin’ frustrating industry to be working in and whilst wry humour is acceptable around morning coffee, snide remarks about the ordasity of the lastest donor request are acceptable asides during meetings, outright criticism is almost universally taken as a sign of not being supportive enough by your employer.

    That, I would say, is why J, and many others, feel the need ‘to focus on the negative and frustrating’.

    Keep it up, J.

  13. Darkwing Duck 9 April, 2011 at 9:03 am #

    This blog is required reading in my anthropology course, as many of our majors consider careers in aid. Sometimes they ask me why -I- am so negative…well, that has to do with witnessing ‘the dumbassery.’ But, I point out that you continue to work. Criticizing aid is not STOPPING aid, it’s about making it do what it purports to do in the first place. I think some of them DO get it. Keep fighting the fight.

    (I was recently introduced at a roundtable as a ‘whistleblower’ on a ‘bad aid’ project. I realized it was one of the greatest compliments I have received.)

    • J. 9 April, 2011 at 9:15 am #

      Exactly. If I thought aid was irreparably broken and had no hope at all of getting it right, I’d stop talking about it all and just move on.

  14. Shotgun Shack 10 April, 2011 at 6:00 am #

    Well, you know how I feel about this. Things need to be called out and you do a good job of that in your very own special ‘strident’ yet humorous way. Keep taking it for the team! I, for one, appreciate it.

  15. chooriyah 10 April, 2011 at 11:36 pm #

    Thank you for your thought provoking and truthful blog. It helps me regularly (deep in the spreadsheet bitchery trenches) to realise others are feeling this way, facing these problems and that there are different, better ways of doing what we do.

  16. Robi 11 April, 2011 at 12:20 am #

    “Dumassery” is now officially my second-favourite word. Top of the list is “severe f*ckery” (which I know is actually a phrase, but my editing days are long behind me, so I really don’t give a f*ck, severe or otherwise).

    I first heard that one in Manchester, just last year. Loved Manchester. Gangly young men sang Smiths’ tunes while stacking suburban supermarket shelves and a friend described the murder that had taken place in her street not long ago as “severe f*ckery, that!”

    I thought of them both today, while wading through pages of the most unfathomable planning document ever encountered. It is disguised by the heading “comprehensive needs assessment” but effectively dictates outcomes before any consideration – much less assessment – has been made of needs. I hummed “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now” and thought to myself, “Now THIS is severe f*ckery.”

    By the way, has anyone ever thought about how aptly so many titles from The Smiths fit planning documents and donor reporting?

    Money Changes Everything
    Paint a Vulgar Picture
    Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now
    Miserable Lie
    I Started Something I Couldn’t Finish
    Panic (song)
    Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want
    Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before
    That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore
    These Things Take Time
    You Just Haven’t Earned It Yet, Baby
    What Difference Does It Make?

    Just a thought…

  17. Claire 11 April, 2011 at 9:13 pm #

    Just recently started reading your blog- love it! have been in the job for a measly 5 years but even in my first year I knew there were deeply screwed up things happening in this field- over and over and over and over (you get the idea…) again without any checks. Scary, especially considering how many frighteningly intelligent people are behind/part of it who should ‘know better’. Please keep writing!

  18. Amelia 13 April, 2011 at 8:42 am #

    Well Dearest J – I have the benefit that I KNOW you are a seriously good bloke, who whilst critically analysing the aid industry (and having a good ol’ vent at times too?!) is also working hard to make it better. So that makes it easier to smile at your more forceful descriptions.

    I also think that an industry is allowed to have SOME places where you are allowed to ‘say it like it is’ because we do have many masters to keep happy. Too many masters and not enough common sense going around. For some people this blog may be shocking, maybe culture shock if you had a still short term experience of the aid world. For those in the profession I think it’s dangerously like therapy. Whatever! Say what you think J, not only is it a democratic right, it is part of keeping your conscience alive.

  19. Sara 19 April, 2011 at 9:59 pm #

    I’ve just recently come across your blog and am slowly flipping through all your entries, and i want to thank you for your bluntness. As a recent graduate and hopeful future aid worker, i deeply appreciate the opportunity to get some insider opinions and reflections. You don’t owe us anything, really, except your honest thoughts, and as you’ve stated, this is your personal blog. Nobody’s perfect (hence why opinions may evolve or change), but you’re also very informed and well-experienced, and there is so much we can (and do) learn from you.

    Anyways, this is vague, but i don’t expect you to be ‘negative’ or ‘positive’. I just want to get closer to the truth so that, as you’ve said, those of us in (or hope to be in) the field can do this right. I also think it’s important, as many writers think critically about the way they write, readers should also be aware of the way they read.

  20. Katie 3 May, 2011 at 1:34 am #

    It’s comforting to know that even people taking it upon themselves to share their experiences and opinions so candidly in a blog and invite people to criticize and debate with you is all the more proof that you are confident in your knowledge and experiences, and more than comfortable proving that to those who doubt you. I think it’s a great thing that you bring up bad aid, and how even though it’s given by nice people, it is misguided and their resources could be more effectively utilized elsewhere in a more useful capacity. There’s no shortage of people in need of what we have the potential to give. By focusing our efforts in the right direction, we have the ability to actually make a real impact. I hope people take your words here as a push to evaluate their efforts, be realistic about the goal they’re trying to achieve and determine if their course of action is obtaining their intended results.

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