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Home » Want to Help Someone? Shut Up and Listen: Ernesto Sirolli (Transcript)

Want to Help Someone? Shut Up and Listen: Ernesto Sirolli (Transcript)

Here is the full text and summary of author Ernesto Sirolli’s talk: Want to Help Someone? Shut Up and Listen at TED conference.

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Ernesto Sirolli – Italian author

Everything I do, and everything I do professionally — my life — has been shaped by seven years of work as a young man in Africa. From 1971 to 1977 — I look young, but I’m not — I worked in Zambia, Kenya, Ivory Coast, Algeria, Somalia, in projects of technical cooperation with African countries.

I worked for an Italian NGO, and every single project that we set up in Africa failed. And I was distraught. I thought, age 21, that we Italians were good people and we were doing good work in Africa.

Instead, everything we touched we killed. Our first project, the one that has inspired my first book, Ripples from the Zambezi, was a project where we Italians decided to teach Zambian people how to grow food.

So we arrived there with Italian seeds in southern Zambia in this absolutely magnificent valley going down to the Zambezi River, and we taught the local people how to grow Italian tomatoes and zucchini and… And of course, the local people had absolutely no interest in doing that.

So we paid them to come and work, and sometimes they would show up. And we were amazed that the local people, in such a fertile valley, would not have any agriculture.

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