Chasing chaos: The real-life story of a humanitarian aid worker

Martha Raddatz, Richard Coolidge & Jordyn Phelps
Power Players

 On the Radar

Idealistic and looking to make a difference, 24-year-old Jessica Alexander set out on a career in humanitarian relief work. But after managing a camp of tens of thousands of refugees in Darfur and rebuilding in Haiti following the 2010 earthquake, Alexander said her idealism faded to cynicism for a time.

“My disillusionment came from realizing that these are syste

 mic problems, and the aid community is working to save lives in the aftermath of huge disasters,” she said. “But a lot of the roots of these conflicts and some of the natural disasters that happen are due to lack of good governance, lack of preparedness.”

Alexander, whose new memoir, “Chasing Chaos: My Decade In and Out of Humanitarian Aid,” traces the ups and downs of her career in aid work, told “On the Radar” that well-intentioned people can inadvertently make conditions worse, when it comes to responding to the world’s greatest tragedies and disasters.

“It became very clear that well-intentioned people that wanted to help and, you know, pitch in, really were causing more confusion and chaos,” Alexander said of her time working in Haiti, when she said “everything from church groups to vegan relief teams to Scientologists” flocked to the country.

Alexander also debunks what she sees as misconceptions about aid workers.

“We’re not saints, we’re human beings,” said Alexander, who writes in her memoir about drunken parties and failed romances with fellow aid workers.

“We may have parties, and we may socialize,” Alexander said. “It's a coping mechanism. I mean, and it's not like it's happening all the time. It's happening after working back to back to back to back 20-hour days.”

Alexander points to her time managing a refugee camp in Darfur as the most challenging of her career.

“There were so many people coming to the camp, and we just felt overwhelmed,” she said. “There were so many people in need, and we had such a small amount to provide.”

To hear more about Alexander’s personal journey, and why she says the refugee situation caused by the Syrian war is unsustainable, check out this episode of “On the Radar.”

ABC News’ Alexandra Dukakis, Kyle Blaine, Tom Thornton, Melissa Young and Ed Jennings contributed to this episode.