Monday, September 06, 2010

six months in sudan

for someone who is mildly obsessed with trying to figure out if international humanitarian assistance or foreign aid makes a positive impact on the lives of those in developing countries, i found almost refreshing to read a book that describes one individual's attempt to achieve what all humanitarians set out to do - improve the lives of others.

whether james maskalyk is successful in his humanitarian quest is secondary to his telling of his six months in sudan, which is also the name of the book, and i am glad that he did not spent his words or pages delving into the academic discussions of how aid should be delivered and what the challenges are for those working in a dynamic and ever shrinking humanitarian space in conflict zones.

instead, you get a honest, heartfelt, angry, and genuine telling of maskalyk's experience of volunteering with medicins sans frontieres in abyei, sudan where there was a simple hospital, small staff and countless challenges and barriers, but he and the msf team, like countless other similar teams active throughout the world, overcome what they can and accept what they cannot change.  but if only it were that simple - to understand the beauty of the struggle and the celebration of the successes, you will have to read the book.

i have never worked in a environment as resource constrained or isolated as abyei, but i do know what it is like to question what you are doing, if it is working the way it was intended, and the pain in the ass that is internal organisational politics and i am not sure how, but maskalyk articulated it all so well.  there were certainly parts that were difficult to read and i had to put the book down a few times (sometimes to take a few breaths because he doesn't hold back on the medical details...), but the story is one of a young canadian doctor who wishes to do what he can to improve the health of those he could in a village in the contested borderland area of sudan.

read it.  you won't be disappointed.

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