Healing Haiti

mountainsHaiti just can’t catch a break.

According to the CIA World Factbook:

In this poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, 80% of the population lives in abject poverty. Two-thirds of all Haitians depend on the agriculture sector, which consists mainly of small-scale subsistence farming. Following legislative elections in May 2000, fraught with irregularities, international donors—including the US and EU—suspended almost all aid to Haiti. The economy shrank an estimated 1.2% in 2001 and an estimated 0.9% in 2002. … Haiti also suffers from rampant inflation, a lack of investment, and a severe trade deficit.

And now, this train-wreck of a nation has been devastated by hurricane Jeanne—more than 1,100 are dead, more than 1,200 are missing. Homes were flattened, crops were washed away, the water supply is contaminated, and things will only get worse unless Haiti receives help, soon.

I want to recommend a captivating book about Haiti, and along with that, let me suggest a way that you can help the people of Haiti today. The book is Mountains Beyond Mountains by Pulitzer Prize winning author Tracy Kidder. (Kidder won his Pulitzer for Soul of a New Machine, unquestionably the best behind-the-scenes account of the birthing of a new computer architecture and the unsung engineers who brought it to life.)

In 1987, with the help of friends—including a quiet, Boston philanthropist—Dr. Paul Farmer co-founded Partners In Health, a non profit organization which has addressed the medical needs of hundreds of thousands of patients in Haiti, Peru, Russia and Boston, Massachusetts, as well as changed the way the medical world approaches the treatment of diseases such as multidrug-resistant tuberculosis and AIDS. The philosophy that permeates all of Farmer’s work is that “the only real nation is humanity,” a belief also embodied in Partners In Health.

Mountains Beyond Mountains follows Farmer from the United States to Haiti, Peru, Cuba, and Russia. At the heart of Kidder’s book is the story of a life based on hope and the understanding of the Haitian proverb “Beyond mountains there are mountains”; in other words as you solve one problem, another problem appears, and so you go on and try to solve that one too. —from the Partners in Health website

Dr. Paul Farmer is one of those rare and gifted doctors who eschew a safe and lucrative practice in the US for a place where both the need and the medical challenges are far greater. Farmer began working in Haiti as a first-year medical student in 1983. He helped establish the Clinique Bon Sauveur in 1985 and two years later co-founded Partners in Health, an organization created to provide medical care and compassionate relief for the world’s poor.

Farmer is a remarkable man, a deeply caring man who always has time to listen to his patients, who knows them by name, knows their families, their medical histories, knows the health challenges they face and the difficulties of scratching out a life in Haiti. He is a zealot when it comes to finding medical aid for the poor, a tireless champion of the forgotten and neglected peoples of the world.

Haitians battle AIDS, hepatitis, and drug-resistant strains of tuberculosis, along with more common infectious diseases. Couple that with poor nutrition and sanitation, and life in Haiti can be hell—the average life expectancy is 51 years; the infant mortality rate is 11 times higher than in the US.

Mountains Beyond Mountains is a must-read book. I think it will open your eyes a bit wider to the effects of extreme poverty, and I hope it prompts you to ask yourself, “What can I do to make a difference?”

I suggest that you start by writing a generous check to Partners in Health. This is an organization with a solid track record in Haiti, with people and facilities in place, already serving, and with the critical knowledge about how best to meet the current and future needs of these needy people.

Pray for Haiti. Pray that just and moral leaders would rise to power there. Pray for economic revitalization. Pray that the world community would reach out to Haiti with compassion and generosity.

And pray that God would relieve the suffering of the poor, and give his children hope.

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  1. Great post. My heart is broken for Haiti and we are about to face the same storm here in Florida. Thanks for the tip on the book and reminder to pray.