Imperfect Offering

Imperfect Offering

Humanitarian Action in the Twenty-first Century

Book - 2008
Average Rating:
Rate this:
As Albert Camus wrote, the doctor's role is as a witness-to witness authentically the reality of humanity, and to speak out against the horrors of political inaction. . . . The only crime equaling inhumanity is the crime of indifference, silence, and forgetting. --James Orbinski In 1988, James Orbinski, then a medical student in his twenties, embarked on a year-long research trip to Rwanda, a trip that would change who he would be as a doctor and as a man. Investigating the conditions of pediatric AIDS in Rwanda, James confronted widespread pain and suffering, much of it preventable, much of it occasioned by political and economic corruption. Fuelled by the injustice of what he had seen in Rwanda, Orbinski helped establish the Canadian chapter of Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders/MSF). As a member of MSF he travelled to Peru during a cholera epidemic, to Somalia during the famine and civil war, and to Jalalabad, Afghanistan. In April 1994, James answered a call from the MSF Amsterdam office. Rwandan government soldiers and armed militias of extremist Hutus had begun systematically to murder Tutsis. While other foreigners were evacuated from Rwanda, Orbinski agreed to serve as Chef de Mission for MSF in Kigali. As Rwanda descended into a hell of civil war and genocide, he and his team worked tirelessly, tending to thousands upon thousands of casualties. In fourteen weeks 800,000 men, women and children were exterminated. Half a million people were injured, and millions were displaced. The Rwandan genocide was Orbinski's undoing. Confronted by indescribable cruelty, he struggled to regain his footing as a doctor, a humanitarian and a man. In the end he chosenot to retreat from the world, but resumed his work with MSF, and was the organization's president when it was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1999. An Imperfect Offering is a deeply personal, deeply political book. With unstinting candor, Orbinski explores the nature of humanitarian action in the twenty-first century, and asserts the fundamental imperative of seeing as human those whose political systems have most brutally failed. He insists that in responding to the suffering of others, we must never lose sight of the dignity of those being helped or deny them the right to act as agents in their own lives. He takes readers on a journey to some of the darkest places of our history but finds there unimaginable acts of courage and empathy. Here he is doctor as witness, recording voices that must be heard around the world; calling on others to meet their responsibility. Ummera, ummera-sha is a Rwandan saying that loosely translated means 'Courage, courage, my friend-find your courage and let it live.' It was said to me by a patient at our hospital in Kigali. She was slightly older than middle aged and had been attacked with machetes, her entire body rationally and systematically mutilated. Her face had been so carefully disfigured that a pattern was obvious in the slashes. I could do little more for her at that moment than stop the bleeding with a few sutures. We were completely overwhelmed. She knew and I knew that there were so many others. She said to me in the clearest voice I have ever heard, Allez, allez. Ummera, ummera-sha-'Go, go. Courage, courage, my friend-find your courage and let it live.' --From An Imperfect Offering
Publisher: Toronto, ON : Doubleday Canada : 2008
ISBN: 9780385660693
Branch Call Number: 610.92 Or1i
Characteristics: 431p illus


From the critics

Community Activity


Add a Comment

Sep 01, 2013

I found this book to be very sobering and heavy, but completely engaging. I was primarily drawn to his medical/ hands on experiences in the field, but he does a good job of highlighting the importance of the political context in which these experiences occur.

AnneDromeda Oct 05, 2010

Orbinski seems to draw a distinction between humanitarianism and politics in order to make compassionate action more immediately accessible to his readers. Certainly, he has taken such action, and certainly, it is detailed here. But part of me thinks this book was written about 5 years earlier than it should have been. Consequently, a large share of the book is dedicated to the working out of Orbinski's post-traumatic demons, gained after years of working in the world's most dangerous, forsaken and deranged places with MSF. More time may have given Orbinski the emotional and mental space to have crafted a more logically cohesive argument of just what is required for humanitarian action in a world where politics *is* so removed from humanitarian efforts. As it is, _An Imperfect Offering_ is still a solid work that does a powerful job of illustrating the sheer necessity and impossibility of navigating the divide between the two, even if it gives few answers on how this is to be done.

Apr 07, 2010

Orbinski relates dramatic events without any added drama. His experiences speak for themselves. Excellent, excellent book.

Mar 03, 2010

Very powerful book. Would highly recommend for those interested in international development, international health issues. Doesn't necessarily put much hope in your fellow man, but certainly worth the time to read; raises awareness and should force us to speak out about injustice.

Nov 02, 2009

A graphic and sobering look into a world far easier to ignore than to acknowledge. A startling, honest presentation of 'our' part in the failures of humanitarian aid and what we are called to do to truly make a difference. Not a read for the 'faint at heart'.

Apr 09, 2009

militant humanitarian.

Oct 05, 2008

militant humanitarian

Age Suitability

Add Age Suitability

There are no age suitabilities for this title yet.


Add a Summary

There are no summaries for this title yet.


Add Notices

There are no notices for this title yet.


Add a Quote

There are no quotes for this title yet.

Explore Further

Browse by Call Number

Subject Headings


Find it at NWPL

To Top