I became especially engaged in Haiti and the public health work being done there a few years back, while working with an NGO in rural Peru. I had read a few excerpts of Paul Farmer's writings, but was not extremely familiar with all that he had done in Haiti, or the rest of the world, for that matter. Upon finishing up whatever other book I was reading at the time, I asked the others I was working with, if they had any books I could read. One handed me the biography of Paul Farmer. I think I finished the book in a matter of two days. Couldn't put it down. The man is incredibly inspiring and has since then, become my hero; someone I personally aspire to be more like and obtain the passion he carries for his work. I can't say enough good things about him.
Back in November, I had the opportunity to sit in on a conference call with him. I am involved with a national organization that is a leading force in ending poverty in the United States and around the world. The focus of the organization is to target the underlying conditions of poverty - mainly health disparities and education, or the lack thereof. Sitting in on this conference call though, renewed my effort to again, become as passionate and motivated as Paul Farmer - or at least to some degree he is (if you have read Mountains Beyond Mountains, the biography about him, you know that it may be next to impossible for most people to have to amount of passion and devotion to work that he does). Again, through the recent earthquake in Haiti, I have felt the stirrings of public health ardor, specifically through the work that Paul Farmer has done in Haiti.
By some great act of God, people were still being rescued 8-11 days past the initial 7.0 earthquake. That still blows my mind! What miracles. We have all heard them the past two weeks, we all wish we could do more, we all feel anguish in our hearts for these poor people of Haiti. I have to post the following, because I thought it was so beautifully written. It comes from Dr Sanjay Gupta, the CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, who has been down in Haiti since shortly after the earthquake.
A couple of days ago, a man was stoned to death about a block from where we are staying in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. I have been down here nearly two weeks covering the earthquake devastation, having arrived quickly the morning after it occurred. I didn’t see the stoning myself, but several of my colleagues described a man who had been trying to steal money and was met with swift and deadly citizen justice. A lot was made of this particular tragedy, and if you caught only that headline, you might be left believing the incident was in some way emblematic of what was happening all over the place. Truth is, even though I braced myself to see rampant lawlessness and mob hostility, I wanted to blog about what I have actually seen.
As I drove through the streets of Port-au-Prince, just 16 hours after the earthquake, I was met with stunned stares and unfathomable grief, as parents tried to dig their babies out of the rubble and older kids did the same for their parents. It was heartbreaking. And though we raced out with our first aid bags to help those we could, it seemed like we would never be able to make a dent in the suffering. There were people who died in this earthquake and those who lived – but there were also a large number of people somehow caught in between. They were alive, but terribly injured and dying. That is where we focused our attention. Terrible crush injuries of arms and legs. Degloving injuries, where the skin of the arms or legs was ripped away. And, people so malnourished and dehydrated that they could barely walk.
I expected to see those stunned stares turn to desperation, and that desperation turn to brutality. It didn’t. In fact, I remember driving by a water station that had finally opened on January 18th, five days after the earthquake struck. It stayed in my mind for two reasons. First of all, five days is a long time to go with little to no water, especially in Haiti heat. Second of all, there was no pushing, shoving or aggressive behavior. There were no armed guards and there was a tight line, with people waiting patiently. Some were even singing songs, while blistering away in the heat. I almost cried. A piece of my faith in humanity, which had been trashed by too many terrible images, was slowly restored.
A couple of days later, I was seeing patients at one of the hospitals in downtown. It was actually more of a tent city situated outside the hospital, where care was sparse and misery was thick. Helping care for wounds, evaluate injuries and even perform surgery – every single patient said thank you, in Creole, French and English. Thank you. When recounting this to a neurosurgery colleague of mine, he reminded me that we could often go months working at a county hospital in the states without ever hearing those two words.
Over the last two weeks, I have not seen the violence Haiti has been known for in years past. During this time, when lawlessness had been put to the test, it seems the people of Port-au-Prince stood tall, dignified and with respect for one another. Yes, there has been “looting” from stores of supplies. But, is “looting” even the correct term for people taking basic necessities for themselves and their families? Instead, it is just survival, and faced with the same situation, I would’ve likely been right there with them, wanting to preserve the lives of my wife and children.
Consider this a blog that went beyond a headline, and presented a reporter’s on-the-ground view of this very important issue. I won’t pretend that this is more than a slice of life in the aftermath of a terrible natural disaster, but it is my slice, and I wanted to share it with you. Thank you – for reading it.If you’re thinking of donating, please put Paul Farmer’s Partners in Health, whom I previously mentioned, at the top of your list. PIH Paul Farmer and PIH have been doing ground-breaking grassroots health care in Haiti for a couple of decades now (particularly around complex long-term HIV and TB care), and they are probably the best equipped NGO to understand the landscape of need on the ground in Port-au-Prince and the highlands. Farmer has acquired more credibility than almost anyone in Haiti. After all, he has built one of the most durable health institutions in the country, which counts some 5,000 employees and -- incredibly -- serves over 10% of Haiti's populations. They may not be as flashy or well-known as the Red Cross, but they are among the best at pulling communities together to the task at hand. And an immense, terrible task it will be in these coming months.
A little more about Farmer and PIH (great video clip, worth your time to learn about one of the most inspiring people I know of):
A wise friend shared with me this quote by Stanley Jones:
“The most absolutely happy people of the world are those who choose to care till it hurts. The most miserable people of the world are those who center upon themselves and deliberately shun the cares of others in the interest of their own happiness. It eludes them. They save their lives and they lose them.”