Chris Blattman

Carpe diem

With Haiti’s crisis bursting from the front pages and blogosphere, masses of people confront (again) an inner angst: “Shouldn’t I be doing something?”, “Couldn’t I volunteer?”, “My job seems so meaningless.”

Times like this I question my decision to become a development student rather than a development actor. I advance already nascent plans to do something more than simply study poverty.

I think these are the right questions to ask. But where to channel that energy and angst? Unless you have a very specific set of skills and experience, you would be more harm than help in Haiti right now. Even a year down the road I can promise you there’s a better use of energy and resources than flying to Haiti to build houses for a week.

I say seize that instinct. There are a hundred Haitis out there. They are called Benin or Bolivia or Bhutan. Parts of Boston, for that matter. There is ample room for smart, dedicated people to devote themselves to emergencies, development, and aid.

I’m serious. Trust your instincts. Get up and go. Become a Peace Corps Volunteer. Click to Volunteer match. Or teach for America. From the Commonwealth? Try the VSO. Want to stay close to home? Try

If you are reading this line, you did not click on one of the links above.

8 Responses

  1. A very brave posting, while the web is brimming with a message claiming volunteering is not the way to go. I love it, although I got to the end.

    Perhaps this feeling is what makes me abhor the orchestrated planning where “good donorship” is just giving the money and get out. I need to do more. I think I can do more.

  2. This sounds like me since 2 years ago. I can’t tell you how much I relate to this post. Thanks Chris! It was nice to see someone articulate my eternal confusions about development so clearly.

    And also, I always enjoy reading your blog. Cheers and heres hoping this will influence some of your readers!

  3. Everyone can make a difference – even in Haiti – by doing their research and finding an organization that is actively implementing an emergency response. is an excellent place to start – they have an up to date list of INGO’s responding and what they are doing, plus profiles of each organization and links to their websites. I work for an INGO that is responding:, and there are many ways to help – volunteer or donate.

  4. And I’ll give you “per karma diem” by spending 10 seconds to click over to Better World Books and vote for Friends of African Village Libraries (FAVL)
    to be allocated $20,000 to establish two new village libraries in Burkina Faso.

    All the other entries are great long-term literacy causes, which can use even more support, and more awareness.

  5. Amen to that Chris! I especially want to commend the Peace Corp as my appreciation for them (selfishly) has recently increased. As part of an “Income Generation Activity” some of their legendary volunteers in Gulu taught a bakery in town to make bagels–seriously good ones. So I say, yes, join the Peace Corp and change the world one bagel at a time. (and if you’re reading this from the Gulu area get in touch with the volunteers to get in on the yumminess/support local business)

  6. Hi Chris,
    I’ve enjoyed your blog for years now, just wanted to say I love this post.
    Keep it up, Fi

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