Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Have We Forgotten Haiti?

I often feel such a sense of sadness and shame at how quickly our lives return to normal after an unspeakable tragedy happens, so I was pleased and surprised to see that our first lady made an unannounced visit to Haiti last week. I have deliberately kept Haiti on my mind by choosing to read (or I should say, listen to) Tracy Kidder's Mountains Beyond Mountains, the story of Dr. Paul Farmer and the incredible work he's been doing in Haiti for the past 25 years.

It isn't easy to be in the company of a saint, nor could it be easy to be married to one, and that fact comes through loud and clear as Kidder follows Dr. Farmer around the world on his missions of caring for the least of our brothers in the worst of circumstances while trying to wrest money, supplies and inexpensive drugs from investors and organizations with the assets to help. Farmer comes across as an idealist of the best kind but also as a man of such intensity that some may quake in his presence. That is, until it comes to his patients who worship him as a kind of god and whom Dr. Farmer also respects and loves intensely. There isn't a false note in his care for these people who rely on him for their future and that of their children.

Dr. Farmer eschews all the comforts that would come with being a world renowned infectious disease specialist working out of the prestigious Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. Every dime he earns goes into his work and time in Haiti in the hills above the capital in a little village called Cange where he built and staffs a clinic known as Zanmi Lasante. Here he brings Kidder to witness the extreme poverty and its effect on the health of the local people suffering from drug resistent tuberculosis. He works pretty much 24/7 flying between Miami and Haiti and Boston for years and then branching out to Peru, Cuba and even the infected prison population in Russia, dragging the author along with him. Tracy Kidder does an outstanding job of bringing us inside the world of infectious disease,  poverty and the politics that run rampant behind the scene when it comes to keeping a non-profit afloat.

Readers of this book, at least folks like me, may succomb to feeling bad about themselves because there's nothing we could possibly do to achieve this kind of selflessness for others. We must resign ourselves to acknowledging the work of these saints like Farmer or Mother Theresa by learning about them, spreading the word through writing or discussion, and giving when we can to organizations like Dr. Farmer's Partners in Health, that continue to work for the betterment of all of us through the poorest of us.

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