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Aid work: No three cups of tea

Three Cups of Tea

The book by Greg Mortenson entitled “Three Cups of Tea” has inspired a lot of people to get into, or at least consider, doing humanitarian and development work.

Here’s a post from the popular anonymous aid/development worker who blogs as Tales From the Hood, a person who does this kind of work but isn’t at all inspired by Mortenson. In fact, he/she is highly irritated by the book. An excerpt from the post Three Shots of Vodka:

In my heart of hearts, I wish that Three Cups of Tea was a realistic description of aid work. Actually, you know what? Right now I’d actually settle for it being a partially accurate description of aid work.

But Three Cups of Tea is not a realistic description. It does not paint an accurate picture.

The reality of aid work is that it is a lot of test and spreadsheet bitchery. It is a lot of hunching over a laptop computer, late at night in sweltering heat (or bitter cold) banging out a report to satisfy a needy internal constituent who fails to understand the context. It is a lot of meeting donor reporting deadlines in particular donor formats. It is a lot of arguing with people who see the world very differently. It is a lot of trying to understand, and then explain why things have not gone as planned.


About Author

Tom Paulson

Tom Paulson is founder and lead journalist at Humanosphere. Prior to operating this online news site, he reported on science,  medicine, health policy, aid and development for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Contact him at tom[at] or follow him on Twitter @tompaulson.