Board Picks


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From the Heart of Our Disaster



      Disaster Relief!


Board Picks

Recommended books and films
picked by Board members.


The End of Poverty, Jeffrey D. Sachs; Penguin Books, ©2006 
A renowned macroeconomist and director of Colombia University’s Earth Institute, Jeff Sachs takes a big-picture look at poverty: its causes, manifestations, greatest concentrations, and solutions.  This book shows the roles that the World Bank, the WHO, the various branches of the UN, government institutions, and NGOs have historically played in the fight against poverty. The reader is also presented with some startling facts that show the inefficiencies and pitfalls that these organizations have fallen into.  In this book, Sachs differentiates why some countries thrive economically, while others languish, citing the Poverty Trap, Physical Geography, the Fiscal Trap, Government Failures, Cultural Barriers, Lack of Innovation, and the Demographic Trap.  Rather than following the oft-used “one size fits all” approach to economic development, Sachs uses and shares the details of his preferred method of a holistic “differential diagnosis,” treating an economic or development situation like a doctor would a patient.  He writes about the “big five interventions” for development: agricultural inputs; investments in basic health; investment in education; power, transport and communication services; and safe drinking water and sanitation.  A study of this book will help the development worker understand the main issues afflicting humanity, the ones to focus on tackling, and the interconnected relationships between individuals, governments, and intergovernmental organizations.  This book is certainly a must-read, written by a leader in modern development thinking.  (Picked by Bjorn)


Development as Freedom, Amartya Sen; Random House, ©1999 
Amartya Sen’s seminal book argues that as individuals’ “unfreedoms” are removed, the poor themselves can act as agents to secure their further “substantive freedoms” and economic security.  Sen steers development thinking away from responding only to economic poverty, and toward a thorough response to expand individuals’ freedoms.  In Sen’s words, the book is “mainly an attempt to see development as a process of expanding the real freedoms that people enjoy.”  A key quote is this re-definition: “poverty must be seen as the deprivation of basic capabilities rather than merely lowness of incomes, which is the standard criteria of identification of poverty.”  Sen stresses the importance of political opposition parties, a free press, NGOs, and individuals to hold governments accountable and thwart famine.  This book is a must-read for anyone involved in aid or development, whether in a government post, director of an NGO, or a concerned and active citizen.  “Development as Freedom” presents a new and fresh and healthy approach for the nascent aid worker: the idea of “the public as an active participant in change, rather than a passive and docile recipient of instructions or of dispensed assistance.”  (Picked by Bjorn)


Banker to the Poor, Muhammad Yunus; Public Affairs, ©2003 
Muhammad Yunus, with the grass-roots Grameen Bank that he started in rural Bangladesh, have proven that the extension of micro-loans to small groups of individuals can work.  In fact, Grameen Bank is pleased to report a 97% repayment rate on its loans!  Large commercial banks cannot claim rates at this level.  In this book, Yunus details the process that he and his colleagues developed to create an effective method of bringing the poorest of the world’s poor up to the first rung on the ladder of economic freedom.  He explains how this process can be replicated (with sufficient changes for cultural differences) worldwide, making a five-person “group loan” for accountability, lending primarily to women (who will make the greatest impact in their family or community), and affording trust to the borrowers.  Yunus champions a full understanding of the community and issues contributing to poverty (much like Sachs’ differential diagnosis), and a commitment to the lives of the individuals one is seeking to assist.  Much like Sen, Yunus goes into great detail showing how a focus on women’s literacy, education, and economic empowerment will have great effect on the rest of the community.  This book presents an honest and hopeful view of how we can make a lasting and sustainable difference in the lives of the world’s poorest.  A must for development workers and those wanting to understand the economics of assisting the poor in a sustainable manner.  (Picked by Bjorn)


Pathologies of Power, Dr Paul Farmer; University of California Press, © 2005 
Dr Paul Farmer, a physician/anthropologist who has spent much of his life working with the poor in Haiti, describes how "structural violence" plagues the poor across the world.  Political, economic and social structures cause an ever-widening gap between those who live without a thought as to how their actions affect others and those who are involuntarily on the receiving end of intentional social injustices.  He calls for real action toward ending systemic injustices from the position of one who is leading the way in taking the necessary steps and overcoming the obstacles.  He calls for international public health that practices not only equality for the poor, but preference for the poor; providing the highest quality care to those who are in the greatest need.  Farmer explains how a lack of preference for the poor by the majority of aid NGOs operating in Rwanda before the 1994 genocide, was to blame for setting the stage of inequality that precipitated the slaughter.  Not budging an inch in his chastization of government policies and destructive social norms, Dr Farmer's book is a voice in the desert calling out for systemic change and action against basic human rights injustices. (Picked by Bjorn)


Shake Hands With the Devil, Romeo Dallaire; Carroll & Graf Publishers, © 2003
The Canadian Force Commander of the UN Assistance Mission for Rwanda describes his battle to maintain peace between Rwandan belligerent forces, as well as his battle to convince the rest of the comfortable world that the victims of the Rwandan genocide were worth sending help to.  He tells the story of his exasperating effort to break through the world's indifference; the story of the "failure of humanity in Rwanda."  (Picked by Bjorn)


IASC Guidelines on Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in Emergency Settings, Inter-Agency Standing Committee, 2007
"One of the priorities in emergencies is thus to protect and improve people’s mental health and psychosocial well-being. Achieving this priority requires coordinated action among all government and nongovernment humanitarian actors.  A significant gap, however, has been the absence of a multi-sectoral, interagency framework that enables effective coordination, identifies useful practices and flags potentially harmful practices, and clarifies how different approaches to mental health and psychosocial support complement one another. This document aims to fill that gap."  (excerpt from Introduction p.1)  (Picked by Bjorn and Eunice)


The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell; Little, Brown and Company, ©2002
Full of psychological case studies and insightful anecdotes, Malcolm Gladwell describes the often unintuitive process by which epidemics, social and medical alike, move past their point of no return.  He describes the "Law of the Few" which suggests that a few key types of people are responsible for instigating widespread popularity.  Other key concepts Gladwell introduces and explains are the "Stickyness Factor" and the "Power of Context."  The Tipping Point is a  useful book for anyone interested in making a product or an idea spread like the flu. (Picked by Eunice)


The Men in My Life, Jean Ewing-Scott;  Morris Publishing, ©2004
This unfortunately titled, self-published manuscript by Miss Jean, a pioneer in disaster relief, tells the story of how she was invited to the UN to form their first and only Search and Rescue Team.  For 32 years she worked with a team of 72 men she had gathered of numerous nationalities, religions and languages.  Miss Jean tells of many of the team's adventures, and her interactions with the likes of Indira Ghandi, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Albert Schweitzer.  Despite the countless missions she and her team undertook and the thousands of lives saved, she expresses her frustration for not having done more, for not having helped the people they encountered in such a way that their lives would be better than before the disasters.  She expresses, too, her thoughts about the hopelessness of governmental corruption and about the USA's seemingly unlimited budget for "military aid" compared to the insufficient amount spent on food, water and medical aid.  Finished shortly before she died in 2006, this unpolished book holds a wealth of insight from a woman of unparalleled life experience.  (Picked by Bjorn)


We Are Marshall
This based-in-fact movie (also was a documentary film) is about a close knit college town in West Virginia, hit with sudden disaster when a plane crash kills the college football team and many community leaders.  The story shows how a team and a community rose from the ashes of grief, sorrow, fear and lost hope thru the courage of a few people who believed it could happen.  It’s a story of regeneration and leading from the heart when the mind can’t comprehend how to start.  Deborah Novak and John Witek produced the 2000 documentary Marshall University: Ashes to Glory.  The 2006 movie was Directed by McG, Produced by McG, and was distributed by Warner Bros.  (Picked by Eunice)


"Eat, Pray, Love" by Elizabeth Gilbert
A year in her life: four months in Italy eating, four months in an Ashram in India praying, and four months in Ubud, Bali, learning to love life again.  (Picked by Sandy)


"A Taste for Adventure" by Anik See
A Canadian author bicycles through 14 countries including Argentina, Iran, Bali, Georgia, Turkey, Armenia, Mexico, learning about herself and people's generosity through food.  (Picked by Sandy)

 Becoming Evil, James Waller; Oxford University Press, ©2002, 2007.
Social psychologist Dr. James Waller has written an amazingly clear book on how ordinary people can end up doing extrodinarily evil deeds.  This book is about Genocide, the worst of catastrophic disasters.  (Picked by Eunice)

Zeitoun, Dave Eggers; McSweeney's Books, ©2009  Written by the co-founder of Voices of Witness, a series of books using oral history, this book follows the lives of a family who experienced the broken social structures in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. It captures so much of what catastrophic disaster is. (Picked by Eunice)