Chasing Misery


Given the booming internet traffic I’m getting, now seems like the perfect time to promote a fabulous new anthology written by women in the aid sector, called Chasing Misery.

It’s a collection of 21 essays and 26 photographs documenting different women’s experiences in the aid sector. And spoiler alert – I’m one of the contributors (no I won’t tell you which one, you’ll just have to guess).

Don’t be put off by the title – it’s not as miserable as it sounds!

The anthology combines touching personal stories of the many successes and failures, trials and tribulations of aid workers, told from a uniquely female perspective – some funny, some heartbreakingly sad, and many more in between. It shows interesting insights and reflections on life as a female aid worker, as well as some truly beautiful photographs.

It’s available in both paperback and kindle versions on both and, as well as on CreateSpace, and you can also read more about the book at the website, or like it on facebook.

10% of the sales will be donated to the Headington Institute, an organisation that provides stress management training, trauma counselling, and many other psycho-social support services to aid workers worldwide.

There’s a rather nice review of the book on the Aidspeak website too.


“Unblinking, Chasing Misery shows the humanity in humanitarian
work, through the eyes of women on the front lines…These beautifully
written, personal, honest and raw essays provide the reader with a
rare glimpse into that world of humanitarian aid…A must read!”
– Caroline Baron, Founder of FilmAid International (

More random things that made me laugh…

Wow – one of my older posts, Reasons why I love the Philippines, seems to have gone a bit viral today (someone clearly shared it on facebook) and I’ve now had over 1,000 views in a day! Madness! I suddenly feel strangely popular and powerful at the same time – it’s like I’m wielding all this internet power using only my words on a blog – MWAH HA HAAAAA!

Ok, enough mad laughter, people in the office are starting to stare… Instead, here are some more random things I’ve seen this month that make me smile.

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Mountain villages in rural Leyte-Leyte…

Some pics from my recent adventures clambering around through rice paddies, balancing on wobbly logs over streams filled with water buffalo, and driving along what can only loosely be called roads to reach some hard-to-access remote villages in upland Leyte-Leyte Municipality.

Bagabao Barangay



End of the road for the car… we’ll have to carry on on foot…


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Bagabao and Mataloto

*Started writing this about 2 weeks ago, but only just getting around to posting it….

Tuesday 1st April 2014

This week I went to visit a couple of very remote barangays (villages) in Leyte-Leyte.

It’s an area that had high levels of poverty even before the typhoon hit, and people there have been living on very little for a really long time. As they are so remote and hard to access that they haven’t received much aid/relief, and trucks can’t get up to them, so in order to get rice (aid/relief) supplies they have to walk about an hour to the nearest accessible village.


I spoke to rice farmers there who had planted seeds after Yolanda, but the seeds were clearly damaged and now that it’s harvest time the yield is less than 30%. We saw stalks of rice with no grains inside, due to the poor quality of the seeds, and as the food aid has slowed down and is now being phased out, you wonder how these farmers will feed their families for the next few months until the next planting and harvest season…

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The Coconut is not a nut….

So, moving on to part 2 of this post about how to rebuild livelihoods after typhoon Yolanda. This time – the Coconut challenge!


The coconut tree is a truly fascinating plant.

Did you know that the Philippines is the largest producer of copra (coconut flesh used to extract coconut oil) in the world? Or that the coconut tree is incredibly versatile.

It can produce copra, which in turn can be turned into coconut oil, and the leftovers converted into high-protein animal feed. The oil itself can be converted into edible cooking oil or coco biodiesel used in the cosmetics industry, or converted into diesel fuel.

The coconut shell can be turned into charcoal and used as fuel, while the fibres from the outside of the shell, or coir, can be used as material for upholstery padding, floor mats, mattresses and handicrafts, and as a soil erosion control tool. Coconut shells make lovely handicrafts and holiday souvenirs too!

The coconut water can be used as a drink, as well as to make vinegar, wines and coco sap brown sugar.

And of course there’s always the lumber you can get from the tree trunk after it stops producing fruit.


So, all of these fascinating facts bring me onto the massive challenge faced by NGOs in the Philippines in the aftermath of typhoon Yolanda.

33 million coconut trees were damaged or destroyed during the storm, which equates to a MASSIVE portion of the Philippines copra export market. Furthermore, it takes between 7 and 10 years (depending on the variety) to grow a new coconut tree from a seedling to fruiting maturity. And the Philippines does not have 33 million coconut seedlings kicking about. So you can imagine what effect that will have on the Philippines GDP over the coming years.

And more to the point, what will all those coconut farmers do to make a living in the meantime?


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Plenty more fish in the sea?

So I’ve just come back from an intense 2-day workshop attempting to bring together all of the Emergency Food Security and Vulnerable Livelihoods (EFSVL) staff, along with key staff from the long-term Country Programme in the Philippines, to plan our strategies for the next few months, and try to integrate our emergency response work with longer term sustainable livelihoods frameworks.

Sounds fascinating? It really was.

Here are some of the really interesting challenges and issues we are facing in the long-term recovery process for some key livelihoods sectors in the Philippines. As I started writing this it got longer and longer, so I’ve split it into two separate posts about Fisheries and Coconuts – two sectors that were heavily affected by the typhoon, and face massive challenges in rehabilitation and recovery….


How do you support a fisherman to rebuild his livelihood, and at the same time encourage him not to fish?

boats 2

Over 30,000 fishing boats were damaged or destroyed by typhoon Yolanda, but even before the typhoon some areas were being heavily over-fished, and it wasn’t just boats that were destroyed. The storm caused massive damage to marine eco-systems, corals, mangroves and other fish and aquaculture breeding grounds which will need time to recover.

And it turns out, fish need corals and mangroves in order to hang out, meet other like-minded fish, and have lots and lots of baby fish….

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