Review by Kiran and Robyn Hutchinson, Sydney Development Circle members and community development practitioners.

“A brave and honest book”

In 2004 the Boxing Day tsunami struck Sri Lanka, a country to which Sue Liu had travelled only a few months earlier. Leaving 35,000 dead and 500,000 displaced, Sue felt compelled to DO something and she did – rallying her friends to chip in, donate and give whatever they can. Sue and her friends’ generosity fill a container bound for Sri Lanka, where she travels to escort the supplies through the chaotic port of Colombo and then to Trincomalee in the far north. What she finds is far removed from her expectations of good will and the experience plunges her into the challenges that all of us face in the development landscape.  Sue finds herself an ‘accidental aid worker’.

This poignant travel memoir, Accidental Aid Worker details the adventures, challenges, doubts, and tribulations Sue experiences as she finds herself immersed into the humanitarian and development world.  The book extends far beyond the aftermath of the tsunami though.  Through her experience in Sri Lanka, Sue finds she has a passion and skill for community work.  Sue is also a woman of the world, with skills in demand by corporations. The pressures of humanitarian and corporate work, including the physical and mental stresses thrown up when doubts surface about the worth of one’s work and life, are a compelling theme of Accidental Aid Worker.  It is a brave and honest book.

Sue passionately, and always honestly, leads us on a path through the cultural challenges and the rewards that the community development sector can bring – and many humorous and heartfelt tales involving nuns, a tuktuk accident, refugees and orphaned children and so much more.  For those of us working in development, Sue’s passion to support community reflects our own paths in many ways. Her story reminded us of the joy we have felt at the connections and contributions we have made and why we are so passionate about development at the grass roots level. Accidental Aid Worker provides real-life lessons of operating in a cross cultural context.

Accidental Aid Worker highlights the bigger question facing us all, no matter where we are working on the continuum between aid and development: how to get ‘right’ that fine balance between aid and development, including how these two facets can complement each other and move towards sustainable community development at the grassroots level. This is a fundamental principal and critical challenge for all of us working in development. By putting her own achievements, mistakes and the personal impact of her efforts in writing, Sue holds up a mirror to the sector – allowing readers to reflect on our own struggles. Sue is one of us. We appreciate her honesty and energy because it keeps us focused on what is important in development work: passion and impact.


“That sprit and energy is what drives so many” from a real aid worker

I found myself fascinated by how someone who was a ‘normal’ non-aid person got involved in the whole affair. I was endlessly amazed at the determination you demonstrated to help people and it was a good reminder that that spirit and energy is what drives so many of the people who donate to these emergencies. It is something we (so called insiders) acknowledge but take for granted and often don’t REALLY understand. I do remember the huge outpouring during the tsunami of the most amazing donations from all sorts of people, especially an elderly woman who said she had been saving for a car but now wanted to give that money to us to help the victims. To read about your heroic (I don’t use that word lightly) efforts was really humbling and inspiring. Your intro and the story of your heartache…so familiar to so many in the aid business in so many ways. So, you may be /have been accidental but you certainly shared a lot of what non-accidental ones do. I know your profile says something but curious to know where all of this leaves you. – Nate, Author and actual, bonafide aid worker.