Senior Editor of Strife, Tom Colley, interviews Kelsey Hoppe on Chasing Misery


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.