The Land of Lost Content: A History of CUSO


408 pages
Contains Illustrations, Index
ISBN 0-88879-125-9






Reviewed by Ross Willmot

Ross Willmot is Executive Director of the Ontario Association for
Continuing Education.


This former Executive Director of this great enterprise has performed signal service by researching and telling the fascinating story of its crucial, stormy role in Canada’s international development effort over the last 25 years. Although Smillie was also one of CUSO’s 8,000 self-sacrificing volunteers abroad, he modestly does not include his own contribution. However, he does not hold back in relating the achievements and derelictions of others. Of nine Executive Directors of CUSO, only two lasted longer than their three-year contract, and only one renewed it; two were fired, and three times a deputy had to fill the breach for periods of six months or more. Most volunteers idealistically carried out the body’s first motto, “To Serve and Learn,” and in later years after much debate and more experience the revised one, “Development Is Our Business.” At least one volunteer abandoned his assignment in Jamaica after publicly smoking ganja, worshipping the sun, and walking around naked.

The Canadian Government at first was “fulsome in its praise and equally parsimonious” in its attitude to CUSO but more recently has almost totally supported it. “While CUSO has been a thorn in the flesh from time to time, it has — in the long run — served Canada well,” Smillie concludes. “CUSO programs in much of Latin America, Zambia, Botswana and other countries, came long before official Canadian aid, and even paved the way for the CIDA bandwagon.”


Smillie, Ian, “The Land of Lost Content: A History of CUSO,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 20, 2024,