Blog Archives


Many thanks to all of you who have reviewed Chasing Misery this year. 9 five star reviews and two 4 stars isn’t bad! Here’s what people are saying:

“As a woman and a humanitarian aid worker, I was thrilled to read this book. The essays are written by various women who have worked in diverse humanitarian emergencies: South Sudan, Haiti, Syria, Uganda, DRC, and may others. The stories are personal, poignant, and evocative of the realities of working in the field. Through their stories, the women who contributed to this book show us the power of empathy, the excruciating realities of emergency response, and even the dark side of humanitarian aid. Reading their tales, we experience the joy of helping others, the pain of seeing the limits of your own work, and the suffering of untold millions struggling with war, natural disasters, and poverty. Anyone considering a life working for an aid organization should get their hands on this book!”


“These essays are an excellent portrayal of the struggles, heartbreak, and hope faced by humanitarian aid workers in the field! A must read for those who have worked in or are considering working in the field!”


“For the humanitarian aid worker, each story in Chasing Misery will conjure up memories of places, people and situations they have experienced. From the ever-moving target of ‘the field’ to holding tight to ‘the subtle thread,’ each story offers a chance to relive and rethink our experiences, and to learn from the wisdom of our colleagues. For those outside the sphere of humanitarian aid and the NGO world, Chasing Misery offers a rare glimpse, from women’s perspectives, into the daily successes, failures and challenges of humanitarian aid work and the constant questioning of what we do, how we do it, and the choices we make in our own lives amidst it.

An excellent read for anyone who does aid work, wants to start a career in it or is simply interested in learning more about it from a fresh perspective!”


“Uniquely positioned authors provide forceful, smart, compelling insight into a world that is little known yet at the forefront of multiple essential projects across the globe. Equally fascinating for those with field experience and for general readers.”


“This is a terrific collection of short stories concerning women in humanitarian work. Emotional, clever and heart wrenching. Highly recommended.”


If you haven’t yet checked out Healthy Nomad’s website you need to do that immediately. You can start here with their recommended reading list!

Whether you find yourself sitting in an international airport waiting for your connecting  flight, in lockdown in the field due to clashes between state and armed rebels, or taking some  time out for yourself, reading is truly one of lifes simple pleasures. 

Yep all you need is a great book, a creative imagination and you’re all set to go!

If you’re old school like me and love nothing more than the smell and feel of a book in your hands, giving up 5-10kgs for that perfect book to take with you wherever your destination is in the world is always worth it. I remember my father thinking I was crazy that Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina made my final luggage cut for my 2 year deployment in Afghanistan, over items that most people would consider essential!  Ahh the beauty of mastering simple living.

Sharing is caring, so here are some of my favorites both old and new, with wellbeing in mind.

I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I have.




Read more about Carmen Crow Sheehan’s contribution to Chasing Misery in this interview for Haverford’s Alumni Magazine. Click here!


Chloe Tucker: How did you become involved in this project?

Carmen Crow Sheehan:

This project percolated for years. I have known Kelsey Hoppe, head of the Chasing Misery team, for about a decade now, and writing a book was the type of thing we would talk about among friends on dark nights in Darfur while we waited for the generator to kick in. Then, just before New Year’s Eve 2012, after this idea had been Brewing for years, Kelsey sent out an email that began, “So, I’m driving along in South Africa the other day thinking…” She was reaching out at long last to a small group of humanitarian types to float the idea of Chasing Misery— something that would incorporate different voices, elements, and experiences about humanitarian work in a single volume. Did we think we could do it? Could we capture the complexity and depth of humanitarian work and its true impact—not just on beneficiaries, but also on aid workers? Could we go past the “do-gooder-ness” and really get at the rawness of the work, for good or ill? I looked up the old email chain and reread it today. My response: “I think this sounds smashingly fun.”

Everyone else on the email chain agreed. And so it began.


CT: When did you write “No Place,” your essay?

CCS:The piece was based on a hodgepodge of things I had written while in Darfur—emails, journal entries, that sort of thing—but I hadn’t gone back to compile or polish any of it until I decided to submit a piece of my own for Chasing Misery. This was the first time since being in Darfur that I’d re-read anything I had written there, and it was actually a very tough process. Those types of memories really stick to you, and even now as I think about it, I can feel my heart rate rising. I left Darfur in 2006, and seven years passed before I brought myself to re-visit those days with “No Place.” I’m glad I finally did.


CT: How do you define humanitarian work? For example, was the Darfuri midwife whom you photographed also performing humanitarian work?

CCS: If I had to boil it down, I’d say humanitarian work is the provision of assistance in crisis or emergency situations to save lives, alleviate suffering, and maintain human dignity. Was the midwife by the flooded river in Darfur performing humanitarian work too? Absolutely. She was the dean of a midwifery school and a very close colleague—we traveled together, worked together, ate together, brushed our teeth together, all those things one does on long trips to the field. … When I think of her, I, of course, think of everything she did to save lives, but perhaps more than that, I think of her dignity and Humanity. In a place where people did, and still do, such awful things—the rape, the killing, the destruction—that element of human dignity can be hard to keep hold of. She never lost it.And she carried it for others. I think that element of human dignity is a piece of humanitarian work that doesn’t get as much press, but that makes all the difference.The midwife in that photo didn’t just save lives. She made them feel valued as people in an otherwise hostile environment— that mattered a lot.


CT: I’ve found the term “help to helpers” cropping up with increasing frequency. How can “helpers” better prepare to engage in help in sustainable ways?

CCS: One recurring theme in my own observations is the importance of “self care,” recognizing that helping others can take a toll and trying to remember that we are much more effective in the long run if we take care of ourselves along the way. I suppose it’s like that speech they give on airplanes before takeoff: “Put on your own oxygen mask before helping others.” That can be very hard to do in the field of humanitarian aid, and I think it’s something most of us could get a lot better at. This is part of the reason the collective group of authors and photographers for Chasing Misery decided that 10 percent of all book royalties will go to the Headington Institute—to help them continue to provide care and support to aid workers when they need it most. If you go to the Headington Institute webpage, it states their vision in a bold, yellow box: “One day, all humanitarian workers will have the personal skills, social support, organizational resources, and public interest needed to maintain their wellbeing and thrive in their work.” I think a lot of us share that vision.[It’s] easier said than done, but clearly there are people out there who dare to dream.


10492191_263759680477665_8488006402670072242_n “Emilie Greenhalgh ’11 shares her experience as an aid worker in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), using a dangerous plane trip and a possible assignment in Afghanistan to frame an inner struggle about the validity and motivation behind her work. Chasing Misery is a collection of 21 first person essays and 23 photographs that give readers a glimpse into the lives of women who respond to emergencies—their hopes, fears, questions, challenges, frustrations as well as glimpses of the humor, beauty, and hope they find in the midst of misery.”


Chasing Misery: An Interview about Humanitarian Aid Work with Kelsey Hoppe

KHoppe2Kelsey Hoppe works for the Pakistan Humanitarian Forum (PHF), a membership organization of international NGOs providing humanitarian aid in Pakistan, where she lives. Previously, she worked in a range of different humanitarian and development roles in places like Sudan, South Sudan, Uganda, Indonesia, and Ukraine. Ms. Hoppe is also heading up a project to publish an anthology of essays written by women working in humanitarian responses – Chasing Misery – to be published in 2013.

Missio spoke with Ms. Hoppe about the book project and her work in humanitarian aid.

To read the full interview please click here.


Chasing Misery was featured in the free expat and travel digital magazine for girls gone international. Have a look at an interview with Editor Kelsey Hoppe here!



Vanessa McGrady features CM contributor, Miranda Bryant, on her blog Swerve. Read the full story here.

I met Miranda Bryant when we were wayward, wild young reporters living on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State. We reveled in the wacky Kinetic Sculpture Races, quaffed microbrews before even Seattleites became hip to them, and had our series of ill-advised, catastrophic romances with unsuitable suitors.

I became committed: To a dog, first, then a series of office jobs, real estate, and finally, a child. Miranda’s commitments became strong as well, but they weren’t to herself and her own small orbit. They were to helping those in desperate need. Her travels took her all around the world, beginning with a Peace Corps stint in Kazakstan. She showed up where God gave up.

I thought that aid work would eventually wear her down and she’d return to some kind of cushy NGO headquarters job. But no.

She’s currently featured in a collection of essays from humanitarian workers, Chasing Misery. The book is a way we civilians, no matter how well traveled we are, can get even a small glimpse of the minds of those who have given up so much for so many.

I recently caught up with Miranda from her current home in Yangon, Burma to find out more about how she turned out so big-hearted after her major swerve.


Read Heather King’s perspective on CM by clicking here

These are women with whom you wouldn’t want to tangle. Tough cookies who have learned to shield their tender hearts because otherwise they’d be crushed. Women who, like all women, struggle with relationships, mother wounds, and mixed motives. Women who ponder the distinction between courage and a death wish, between the desire to alleviate suffering and the desire to escape. Women who ask the question we all ask, all the time: Does anything I do ever, really, help? Is “helping” even the goal?


Strife, a graduate-led, London based, journal on conflict interviews Kelsey Hoppe about Chasing Misery. To read the full interview, click here.

What is the central message of the book?

I don’t know if the book has a central message but I think that some of the themes that run through the book are vulnerability, empathy and compassion. The authors of a number of essays discuss the emotional toll the work takes on them and how they deal with it. Some of them are quite raw. When we see and experience things that are difficult we take those things inside ourselves and we have to process them in some way. You would either have to be incredibly callous or super-human to pretend that you can work with dead and dying people, people who have had their choices in life stripped away by war and disaster, have your friends and colleagues killed, and not have that affect you in some way. To not want to tell that story. Antjie Krog said that ‘we tell stories not to die of life.’ I think that’s true and I think that’s what we’re doing here. We’re telling our stories in order not to die of life.


Chasing Misery focuses specifically on the role of women in humanitarian responses. Why focus specifically on women?

I get asked this question a lot and I do really believe that men have contributed as much as women in humanitarian aid work. I also think, and wish, that more research had been done on the number of women involved in aid work. It’s a huge number. I’m guessing it’s well over half of those doing the work. Everyone brings something unique to what they do and I think women have a particular way of seeing and describing things. That is what I wanted to capture.


What are the unique challenges women face as humanitarian workers? Is being a woman advantageous in some situations?

Being a woman is certainly advantageous in certain circumstances and also a disadvantage in others. There are times and cultures in which a senior tribal elder just doesn’t want to talk to a young, white, woman to make decisions about his community’s future. Fair enough. I think we should respect that and not take it personally. If I was the Mayor of New York and half of the city was underwater and Japan sent me a huge amount of money and some 20-somethings with very little experience to fix it I would probably tell them to go get me some grown-up engineers. That said, it’s an incredible advantage at other times – especially in those same communities where men just can’t, or aren’t able, or don’t want to talk to women to get their perspective and hear their story.


What do you see as the most significant barriers humanitarian agencies face in mitigating the problems in places that they work?

This is a tough one because it’s different in every place. And even in the same location it can vary from organisation to organisation. I would say overall though it’s the politicisation of humanitarian aid. It’s tying politics to alleviating suffering. When almost all the money that aid organisations receive is from a government with specific national interests toward another government it’s very hard to say the money isn’t tied to the interests of that first government or isn’t going to be manipulated by the interests of the recipient government. I think that humanitarian aid has tried very hard to stick to the principles of neutrality and independence in conflict and disaster but, as they say, ‘life is politics’. And politics makes aid dangerous for those who deliver it.