But my life was changed by the two years I spent walking 20 miles every day, staying in more than 500 village houses, and seeing, night after night, the grotesque gap between what governments everywhere say, and what actually happens on the ground.
It was that gap between government and people that drove me to seek election as a member of Parliament in Cumbria, and now as leader of the Conservative Party.
I want to bring back the best of Britain – to make our hospitals, our schools, our communities, our citizens – once again the envy of the world. But the key is not to list the problems but how to solve them.
Of course we must deliver Brexit, but there is much more to do. We need a hundred new policies addressing everything from the biggest infrastructure projects to the daily injustices of life.
We should aim to build two million homes in the next five years and transform our broadband and our impact on the environment, but we should also abolish charges in hospital car parks. My constituents should never have to emerge from visiting a dying parent to find a parking ticket on their car. There are a hundred similar problems that must be fixed, but the secret is not to talk about them but instead get them done.
No-one would call me a professional politician. But what I discovered as the deputy-governor of a war-torn province in Iraq, or setting up a charity in the old city of Kabul, was the same thing that I subsequently learnt at home as the Minister for Floods or the Minister for Prisons.
It doesn’t matter whether you are clearing 30,000 truck-loads of garbage out of the old city of Kabul, or whether you are introducing the plastic bag tax in England – what matters is the determination and energy with which you do it.
If more than 20,000 people are dying prematurely from polluting fumes, or pollution is causing toddlers’ lungs to be a third under-developed, or we aren’t adequately supervising offenders in the community, then we shouldn’t be trying to hide the problem, we should be solving it.
If the Treasury or a civil servant is arguing that it isn’t a priority to install X-ray scanners or sniffer dogs to search prisoners for phones and drugs, we need to challenge them and get it done.
If men who loot pension pots and don’t pay British taxes are getting knighthoods, then we need to protect those pensions, and take away that knighthood. And if we are facing a climate emergency that is threatening our planet then we need not just to talk about it, but get on with it.
When my eldest son – who is now four – is 19, I would like everyone in his nursery school to be living in a country which understands that there is no real conflict between the best technology in the world and all that we love of our history and traditions.
That is why superfast broadband was my first priority as an MP (and why I am enraged that our broadband speeds in the UK are slower than those in Madagascar). We will need to understand fully both the potential and threat of artificial intelligence or nano-technology, and the many other burgeoning technologies.
We should also create the vocational training and apprenticeships that equip people for the jobs of an ever-changing economy. And we need to create those jobs right across the United Kingdom, and make all our nations flourish together.
We must aim to build not just two million houses, but two million houses that are more than uninspired boxes and that future generations will look at in awe.
We should use our aid budget in part to invest in research and development for the solar technology of the future.
But we should also, building on our tradition and heritage, plant 100 million more native trees in a year – including our traditional icon, the oak – which will greatly help to solve the modern problems of carbon and air pollution.
And we must cease to indulge in excessive misery. The United Kingdom is home to some of the most remarkable people in the world.
Our science, our products, our sport, our culture and our language are known from China to Colombia. Our capital is a global icon.
And there is so much more. If we act with discipline and determination, the whole world will come to admire our schools, our hospitals, and our towns – and above all our citizens, our communities, and our nation.
Rory Stewart is the International Development Secretary. The Conservative MP for Penrith and The Border, he is standing for the Tory leadership.