The Bookshelf: 6 Important Books about Aid and Development

6 important development books

We want to do some good here and we want to do as little harm as possible. Along with learning from locals, asking what people need and what people think will help, learning from experience, and a lot of prayer, I turn to books for help. Here are some that have been useful, interesting, and challenging.

If you are involved in the world of aid and development work, whether internationally or locally, you need to read When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor . . . and Yourself by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert. I think I am currently on my third reading of this, with many returns in between complete reads to remind myself of the concepts in it. What is poverty? What do poor people have to say about poverty? What are the four sectors involved in poverty? This book provides excellent fodder for communication and tools for rethinking our engagement with ‘the poor,’ which includes people just like me. Even if you aren’t involved in development work, I can’t recommend this book highly enough for the way it will challenge your worldview. It is a faith-based book and relies on Biblical ideas alongside non-faith based research and experiences.


After you read When Helping Hurts, you need to read Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl Wudunn (I wrote more about it here, though this post is mostly about the film and not the book). Of course my favorite chapter was the one about the Edna Aden Hospital in Somaliland, where we hunkered down for a week in 2003 in the middle of our evacuation experience. But the entire book is well worth reading because we need to know what is happening among girls and women, the vulnerable and the exploited, in order to know how to best invest in whole communities.



The Blue Sweater: Bridging the Gap between Rich and Poor in an Interconnected World by Jaqueline Novogratz. Imagine you donated a sweater. You put it in a box destined for who-knows-where and you go about your life. That life leads you to Rwanda as an adult and you are walking down the street when suddenly, right in front of you, is someone wearing that sweater. Not just a sweater like it, not a replica, but that specific sweater that once kept you warm or itchy. That is what happened to Novogratz and while it sounds far-fetched, I believe her. I have seen kids here wearing my kids’ hand-me-downs. Of course we live here and this is a small town, but still…This book is about helping women develop small businesses and is a mix of memoir and development ideas.


The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries are Failing and What Can Be Done About It by Paul Collier






The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time by Jeffrey Sachs

I don’t agree with all of Sachs’ ideas and, interestingly enough, he and the author of the next book, William Easterly, also disagree. There are no easy or one-size fits all solutions. I was captivated by this book until the end when he writes about Millenial Villages and the conversation leaped far over my head and my ability to engage or be involved. But Sachs is still an excellent author to read for learning about and thinking about development.



The White Man’s Burden: Why the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good by William Easterly





What I’m Reading This Week

Every Man in This Village Is a Liar: An Education in War by Megan K. Stack I listened to this while running over the past week. Her writing is poetic, which struck me as being at odds with the gory, horrible situations she was writing about. Sometimes it felt a bit over the top but I also appreciated her effort to find beauty, life, and hope in devastation.





Home Leave: A Novel by Brittani Sonnenberg. This is another one I’m listening to while running, recommended to me by Marilyn Gardner. Sisters, family life focused on international moves…sounds like something I can easily connect with. I just started this one and am eager to wake up tomorrow morning, go for my run, and hit ‘play.’ That’s the best motivator for getting out the door – a good story waiting for me.




The Turtle of Oman: A Novel, by Naomi Shihab Nye, a book for ages 9-12 or so. We are reading this one out loud together and so far I am really enjoying it. It reads smoothly and is about places familiar in our region of the world. Oman, Dubai, people speaking Arabic. Really a fun world to enter through fiction for this age. I’d like to read more like this.





It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War, by Lynnsey Addario just started it, can’t say much yet but I’m fascinated by the premise, basically what the tagline says: a photographer’s life of love and war.



What are you reading this week?

Half the Sky, some delayed thoughts

Tank in Somaliland. Does this make you think all Somaliland is engulfed in violence?

Tank in Somaliland. Does this make you think all Somaliland is engulfed in violence?

I am in the middle of watching the movie Half the Sky. Read the book when it first came out, thanks to an airport bookstore in Dubai.

Of course my favorite part is about Edna Aden’s hospital. That is where we lived for a week in 2003, the safest place for Americans in those days between three murders. I don’t have positive memories of the hospital but that is because we were two families in one small, unfurnished apartment, unprepared to spend a week. Two moms with toddlers and we never left that hospital. We hadn’t brought toys or books or underwear or diapers – it was an evacuation. Our husbands went out for food. They would bring back plastic bags of pasta which which we ate from the bag with our hands.

Yeah, not great memories.

But, an amazing hospital!

After the Child of Two Worlds came out in the NYT, a reader wrote that she was surprised I would give birth in Djibouti instead of at Edna Aden’s hospital in Somaliland which she had read about in Half the Sky. As limited as Boufard is here in Djibouti, it is still light years ahead of Somaliland’s facilities.

But, an amazing hospital!

But I’m not writing this post about the hospital. The issues the book raises of slavery and sex trafficking and education and rape and female genital cutting are real and powerful and deep and personal to me. I know the family of a girl who was sold last week. One of the reasons we live here is to work with locals on education issues. Cutting is a common topic of conversation.

I know I’m behind the times in talking about the documentary. Such is life in Djibouti. There are already fabulous reviews and critiques online so I won’t go in-depth.

New York Times

Seattle Globalist. This article says pretty much what I think. The movie is good, important. Why on earth did Kristof need to bring along actresses who created such awkward scenes? Why couldn’t the women speak for themselves? Their stories are the powerful ones, not the shocked looks on Eva Mendes face or Meg Ryan’s cowardice.

Your Women are Oppressed but Ours are Awesome

Pop Matters. It opens with the quote: “All the girls have their own songs.”

My question is, if the girls have their own songs, why do we need the western celebrities?

I have the honor of participating in a blog series called War Photography with D.L. Mayfield. My post will come out in a few weeks and we are looking at what it means to present other people’s stories and how to do it in ways that give honor.

Sometimes it means stepping in. Sometimes it means stepping out. I don’t know if it means bringing in famous people for the shock value or the ‘bridge-character’ value as Kristof refers to them.

Girls in school. Which picture is 'true'? Hint - the tank is all rusted.

Girls in school. Which picture is ‘true’? Hint – the tank is all rusted.

Another issue is, when and how is it appropriate for westerners to criticize another culture? How can it be done without objectifying? Can it? I came away from the movie torn. Like I said, it is an important film and raises very real issues. On the other hand, it felt rather one-sided. Someone without a global perspective could come away and believe that all Cambodian men enslave preteen girls to brothels. Or all pastors in Sierra Leone get away with rape. Or that ‘our’ culture doesn’t battle with these issues. Or that all you have to do is smile and hug and make a movie to change an ugly situation. Or that there is nothing beautiful in these nations other than little girls who can smile through their suffering. And maybe a few wild animals and an orange sunset.

Kristof writes about others with himself in the picture. Katherine Boo, winner of the National Book Award for her Behind the Beautiful Forevers (my favorite book of the year by far), writes about Indian slum dwellers with herself completely absent. Is one better? More right? These are things I am constantly asking myself as I write about life here in Djibouti. For more thoughts like this, I’ll link you up to my post when it comes out and encourage you to read more of that War Photographers series (link above).

Did the celebrities help or hurt Half the Sky, the movie?

By |January 29th, 2013|Categories: africa|Tags: |16 Comments
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