Reviews of SHAME

Here are a few reviews about SHAME, Confessions of an Aid Worker in Africa

‘Shame: Confessions of an Aid Worker in Africa’, by Jillian Reilly is a painfully honest autobiographical account of how a young American woman lost her messiah complex while inflicting capacity building and AIDS awareness programmes on Southern Africa in the 1990s. She never really had a chance – she writes far too well to be an aid worker.

Duncan Green, From Poverty to Power

While it takes a certain amount of courage to leave a comfortable life in the USA and immerse yourself in the drama and chaos of Zimbabwe’s HIV/Aids crisis, this bravery pales in comparison to what it takes to admit that your efforts – and those of the countless individuals who devote their lives to ‘saving Africa’ – have largely been in vain. Jill Reilly’s Shame, written in the first person, is madly, deeply and unflinchingly honest as she uses her own experience of working as a project director in Zimbabwe for two years to ask – and answer – some pretty uncomfortable questions about the efficacy of Western aid and the fact that, in spite of the billions of dollars annually spent on development in Africa, little – if anything – has changed.

Susan Hayden, Marie Claire

No place here for crypto-colonial, romantic garbage about Africa

Rosa Lyster, Slipnet.co.za

Oh great, another American do-gooder coming to save Africa! That’s what I thought when I was given a copy of this book – yet after reading the first sentence my curiosity was piqued and I couldn’t wait to find out more.

Growing up in Missouri, Jillian Reilly dreamt of helping those less fortunate than herself; of doing something that would make a difference. At the age of 23 she got her chance.

After spending time in South Africa in 1994 she moved to Zimbabwe where, despite having little experience, she landed a bigwig job as the director of an HIV/Aids programme. Fired up with good intentions she set out to combat the pandemic through education. But slowly it dawned on her that doing good in Africa is a complicated business and didn’t quite match up to her childhood dream. Finally, crippled by a sense of futility and on the brink of burnout, she realised the only person she could save was herself.

There’s nothing worse than witnessing a dream being shattered but thankfully Reilly never takes herself too seriously. Her self-deprecating humour and talent for observation make this a fascinating read.

Jane Vorster, YOU Books

This book is well written, informative, introspective, brutally honest and often tragically funny; the style being that of a constant “inner critic” checking on the true intention of the American “aid worker” in Africa.

It is a refreshingly true reflection on what goes on in the human psyche when we have a codependent approach to “helping others”. By taking on the “hat of the rescuer” others become “those that need rescuing”, rather than unique individuals. Relationships become tarnished by a sense of shame or stigma.

The author battles with a recurrent feeling of inauthenticity throughout the time spent “helping Africa”, until something happens, that allows her to recognize her Self and she goes home, back to America, to take stock.

By becoming an author she is now authentic, as she does not have to “rescue” anybody anymore, and can still provide important information for those who want it and are ready for it.

The beauty is, that she has in fact done a lot of good work in Africa and I salute her.

Elisabeth Schneider-Waterberg