Sachs writes moving passages about the boundlessness of human generosity.” —Reason
“Remarkable. . . . All Else Failed has more than passing relevance.” —Wilmington Star-News
“[Sachs] reveals the ways people fleeing for their lives take time to care for one another in the midst of panic and heartbreak. . . . In moments of desperation, goodness shines. This book is a testament to that.” —Washington Independent Review of Books
“Gripping, and deeply absorbing. . . . [All Else Failed] serves as both sympathetic companion and useful guide for grassroots volunteers and organizers in future crisis zones.” —Colorado Review
“A multilayered journalistic account. . . . Some of the most powerful individual lessons we may learn from those chronicled in these pages involve the need to tend to one’s own mental health and personal boundaries while providing aid and succor.” —North of Oxford
“A stunning portrait of hardship, despair, and resilience.” —Publishers Weekly
“This people-first, intensely researched, deeply personal, and altogether devastating call to action tells us that when all else fails, volunteer.” —Booklist
“Inspiring and troubling.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Timely and important.” —Midwest Book Review
“Dana Sachs’s vivid, passionate book will shake any faith you once had in international aid organizations. But it will move and inspire you, and bring a lump to your throat, by its portraits of big-hearted women and men from many countries who jumped in to help fellow human beings caught up in one of the worst humanitarian catastrophes of our time.” —Adam Hochschild, author of King Leopold’s Ghost and To End All Wars
“An urgent, deeply researched, and tender account of the helpers: refugee crisis volunteers (often formerly displaced) who arrive when those responsible for the chaos have turned their backs. Vital, and often infuriating, it is at once global in scale and absolutely singular. This is a story about the drive to nurture and care for our fellow humans, one that stirs us all.” —Dina Nayeri, author of The Ungrateful Refugee
“Sachs chronicles what happened in Greece when Middle Eastern refugees and volunteers from around the world converged, imperfectly, often chaotically, but with empathy and generosity in ways that mattered and ways that moved me. Sometimes these impromptu communities fail in the end, but the fact that they succeeded for a time, against the odds, can teach us important lessons.” —Rebecca Solnit, author of Hope in the Dark and Not Too Late
When governments fail to rescue those fleeing political terror, it’s up to volunteers to step in.
Sachs, a journalist and co-founder of Humanity Now: Direct Refugee Relief, opens her account in a ramshackle district of Athens, the capital of the nation through which, by 2015, more than 800,000 refugees from Africa and Asia had passed on the way to other parts of Europe. “They needed help,” writes the author, “but Greece, buried in debt, did not have resources to address the crisis.” The EU distributed millions of euros, but inefficiently, while the U.N. was slow to react. Consequently, private individuals from all over the world came to the aid of the refugees, providing food, medical assistance, clothing, and other necessities. Altruism underlay most of their efforts, but, as one British woman told Sachs, “We’d had our own shit.” Having experienced troubles with the immigration system herself, she had empathy for the experiences of the Syrians, Afghans, and others who had wound up in that Greek camp with no place else to go. Many volunteers mustered the bravery to swim into rough waters to rescue refugees in danger of drowning after their smugglers’ boats sank. Eventually, many refugees were able to aid themselves by taking donated food and cooking for hundreds of people at a time. Sadly, writes Sachs, for all the efforts of those involved, burnout is common: “Some long-term volunteers decided that close relationships with refugees drained them emotionally and compromised their effectiveness.” Meanwhile, some volunteers behaved as if the camp were a holiday venue; when corrected, they protested that this was how it was in Europe and that the refugees had better get used to it. In the end, the volunteer efforts were only partially successful; the situation required professionals. “The story of displacement can’t have a happy ending,” writes Sachs. Still, one can only try.
An account of humanitarian aid that is both inspiring and troubling.