Over a year ago, I wrote about reading series of books, and how it had become a bit of an obsession of mine. Lately I haven’t been reading any series of books, per se, but have definitely fallen into a very particular genre of books. For Christmas, Jeff and I each got a $25 gift card to Barnes & Noble from his parents. Let me tell you, we are both huge fans of reading, so we were pretty stoked about this gift, and didn’t wait more than a day to hit up B&N and find something exciting to spend our money on.

Jeff mentioned I should spend my money on getting something “fun” to read this time, since every book I’d read before then was pretty serious in nature. I tried. But I just couldn’t. I went to the Spanish section, where I usual find a good, light-hearted and entertaining read (and I get to brush up on my Spanish). There were several titles that looked intriguing, but not nearly enough so to make me want to spend my Christmas gift on them. I was itching to head back downstairs to the section that really interested me. And so it was that my gift card was used for the same type of “serial” reading that I’ve been doing lately. I feel the books I’m choosing lately are almost a self-education in a new area of study: I can’t afford to pay for a masters in international development, but I’m reading a lot of literature about it, and maybe that’s enough for now.
So here’s my list of serial reading in international development/non-profit development so far:
It all really started with an ad in the online version of the New York Times for Three Cups of Tea. Jeff will tell you I’m a sucker for advertising. The reviews were great, I bought it, I read it. My initial reaction is to say that it was great, inspiring, moving, entertaining, etc. And I think it was (it’s been a while), but I do believe it took me a while to actually get into it. If you haven’t heard about this book before, it’s the story of how Greg Mortenson started the Central Asia Institute, a non-profit that raises money to build schools in Afghanistan, and now Pakistan. It really is an inspiration of how much one man can accomplish, and a testimony to what a difference education can make.

The first book I bought after I returned from my trip to Haiti was Mountains Beyond Mountains, by Tracy Kidder. It tells the story of Doctor Paul Farmer, who I’ve already mentioned several times in Cielo Azul. With this book I started to fold the top corner of passages or quotes that I liked, or stuff I wanted to research more (but still haven’t). Here are a few:
  • “‘Clean water and health care and school and food and tin roofs and cement floors, all of these things should constitute a set of basics that people must have as birthrights,'” quoting Dr. Paul Farmer, page 91.
  • Page 116 describes Dr. PF’s writing of The Uses of Haiti, which I want to eventually read.
  • “There are more billionaires today than ever before…We are talking about wealth that we’ve never seen before. And the only time that I hear talk of shrinking resources among people like us, among academics, is when we talk about things that have to do with poor people…Margaret Mead once said, Never underestimate the ability of a small group of committed individuals to change the world…Indeed, they are the only ones who ever have.” Quoting Jim Kim, page 164.
  • “Change the world? Of course they could. [Paul Farmer] really believed this, and he really believed that ‘a small group of committed individuals’ could do it. He liked to say of PIH, ‘People think we’re unrealistic. They don’t know we’re crazy.'” Page 169.
  • “If one pushes this ology to its logical conclusion, then God is to be found in the struggle against injustice. But if the odds are so preposterously stacked against the poor–machetes versus Uzis, donkeys versus tanks, stones versus missiles, or even typhoid versus cancer–then is it responsible, is ti wise, to push the poor to claim what is theirs by right? What happens when the destitute in Guatemala, El Salvador, Haiti, wherever, are moved by a rereading of the Gospels to stand up for what is theirs, to reclaim what was theirs and was taken away, to ask only that they enjoy decent poverty rather than the misery we see here every day in Haiti? We know the answer to that question, because we are digging up their bodies in Guatemala.” Paul Farmer discussing his distrust of ideologies, page 195.

Next came Travesty in Haiti: A true account of Christian missions, orphanages, fraud, food aid and drug trafficking, by Timothy T. Schwartz. This book gives a critical look at how foreign aid has really affected Haiti. I think it’s a great read for anyone wanting to work in this field, so you know what you’re dealing with, and what you want to avoid. He spoke a lot about the effects of food aid, and large NGO’s that work in Haiti. With this book, I moved it a step up from folding pages to….highlighting!
  • “I came to understand that food aid crashed the local agriculture markets, driving peasants off the land…” (page 47).
  • Speaking about what little there was to know about wind generators that had been installed in the early 1990s, and quickly fallen into disrepair: “But it was enough because it is the typical story regarding development all over Haiti: ‘It is broken, can’t be fixed, and nobody knows anything else about it.'” (page 66)
  • “When I first arrived in Haiti…I was enthusiastic. My enthusiasm and belief that I could make a contribution kept me returning despite the hardships, the violence, the coups, and the embargoes. But ten years later I was a different person. Perhaps I was simply burned out…Perhaps more than anything else, by 2000, I no longer was an objective researcher. I was deeply angry at what I perceived to be the widespread fraud, corruption, arrogance, greed, self-interest and apathy that afflicted the entire development community which was, in my opinion, a total failure, serving only to make the poor poorer and the rich richer” (page 216).

Then, per a friendly recommendation, I read The End of Poverty, by Jeffrey Sachs. This book was a little challenging for me, since it’s heavy on economics and numbers. Let’s just say that in college I took the “economics for dummies” course. It had a lot of interesting information and thoughts on how poverty can actually be eradicated in time to meet the Millennium Goals. Curiously enough, the book I’m currently reading, The White Man’s Burden, is a response to some of Mr. Sach’s arguments. One of my favorite parts of the book was actually the forward by Bono.
  • “More than one million African children, and perhaps as many as three million, succumb to malaria each year…There is simply no conceivable excuse for this disease to be taking millions of lives each year” (7).
  • “The rich countries do not have to invest enough in the poorest countries to make them rich; they need to invest enough so that these countries can get their foot on the ladder [of development]” (73).
  • “Eliminating poverty at the global scale is a global responsibility that will have global benefits. No single country can do it on its own” (327).
  • “American political leaders and the broad public rarely recognize that the U.S. government has repeatedly made international commitments to do much more than the United States is doing, and even less do they realize that the lack of follow-through carries an enormous foreign policy cost” (337).
  • On page 350 Sachs discusses the importance of education: “The wider the education, including in social and political principles, the more peaceful, sound, and progressive the entire society would be.”

After scanning a few stands at Barnes and Noble, I came across The Rainy Season by Amy Wilentz. What I loved about this book is that it was an interesting way to learn about the historical context of Haiti, including the end of the Duvalier regime, and the rise of Aristide.
  • “Haiti’s stuck in an uncomfortable position now: the earthquake has opened the country up to all sorts of interventions, speculations, and exploitations, but unquestionably the help is needed. There’s very little room for resistance in this disaster. The country’s lying there like a rape victim waiting for further onslaught” (introduction, xiii).
  • “It took me a little while to realize that if you wait long enough in Haiti, and really not so long, the tyranny and violence is likely to return, and that a people’s victory is not always in the end what is seems to be in the beginning” (20).
  • “Whenever change is effected without bloodshed in Haiti, it means that an equitable deal has been struck among all interested parties” (129).
  • There is an interesting paragraph about the culture of voodoo and it’s perseverance despite foreign opposition to it; too long to type out now though :) page 165.
  • Page 183 provides great insight to the relationship between poverty and religion.
  • Page 267 talks about trees, and how there are many NGO’s that want to give trees to farmers in order to improve deforestation, but farmers are weary of planting trees because they can’t afford to use what precious water they have on growing trees, trees that are not going to be quick cash returns.
  • Speaking to an AID worker about Haitian’s that don’t support NGO projects because they know these projects fail to follow through on promises made: “‘I know, I know,’ he said. ‘But at a certain point, who cares if they want it? They need it, and they’re going to have it. They don’t understand. What Haiti needs is infrastructure, and we are going to make sure they get it whether they want it or not'” (284).
  • Some of the most sobering passages of Wilentz’s book are graphic descriptions of violence surrounding elections.

I then went back to the beginning, and decided to read the sequel to Three Cups of Tea: Stones into Schools, by Greg Mortenson. This book follows Mortenson’s quest to start building schools in the most difficult regions of Pakistan. I sadly just realized I didn’t highlight much on this one, but I did find it a much more entertaining read than Three Cups.
  • “Amid the rush to provide tents, food, and medical supplies, few of the western NGOs seemed to be giving much thought to schools. Based on past experience, however, the militant groups who were busy setting up their aid networks fully understood the power of education under such circumstances” (179).
  • Mortension writes about Chritopher Kolenda, and a book written by him called Leadership: The Warrior’s Art. On my follow up list.
  • “…I am told that there will be roughly 200 children who will study at the school; and that the skills they will learn and the ideas to which they will be exposed may usher in changes–some good, others bad–which no one can foresee” (epilogue, 375).

My last read was The Blue Sweater: Bridging the Gap Between Rich and Poor in an Interconnected World, by Jacqueline Novogratz. Novogratz is the founder of Acumen Fund, and talks about how she began developing for-profit enterprises by and for the poorest populations around the world.
  • “I began to see what it meant to put into practice the idea of extending basic services as simple as bank accounts that the middle class took for granted to people who are often invisible to those in power” (17).
  • “Cote d’Ivoire became a place where just walking down the street filled me with questions about justice and compassion, power and money, and the randomness of where we are born and how much that determines who we become” (23).
  • “In this case, well-intentioned people gave poor women something ‘nice’ to do, such as making cookies or crafts, and subsidized the project until there was no more money left, then moved on to a new idea. This is a no-fail way to keep already poor people mired in poverty” (76).
  • “Meanwhile, I found myself frustrated once again by development ‘experts’ who looked in from the outside and suggested clever solutions that created a lot of noise, distorted markets, resulted in systemic corruption, and accomplished little” (94).
  • Somethings to check out: Next Generation Leadership, Three Guineas Fund
  • “Patient capital is money invested over a longer period of time with the acknowledgment that returns might be below market, but with a wide range of management support services to nurture the company to liftoff and beyond” (229).
  • “That same resilience, however, can manifest itself in passivity, fatalism, and a resignation to the difficulties of life that allows injustice and inequity to strengthen, grow, and solidify into a system where people forget to question until an event or series of events awakens the next generation” (275).
  • “They balance their passion for change with an ability to get things done. Mostly, they believe fundamentally in the inherent capacity of every human being to contribute” (277).
  • “…scientists are finding, not surprisingly, that the one factor that does bring greater happiness is serving others..” (279).
All in all, I’m quite enjoying my current series. Feel free to send me any recommendations you think might fit in :)
*PS: this is my 200th blog entry. Can’t believe I’ve been boring you guys with my thoughts 200 times already.