Paul Farmer: A Moment of Reflection
On Tuesday night last, I went along to a fundraiser in Soho for Partners in Health
, an organization founded by Paul Farmer that aims to provide quality health care to the poor and medically unserved in developing countries around the world. You may know Farmer's work from the wonderfully evocative book Mountains Beyond Mountains
by the journalist Tracy Kidder
. The book describes how Farmer and a few colleagues established a health clinic in Haiti and the struggles and passion that have exemplified Farmer's work.
The clinic in Burundi is much needed, and the funds will be well used. There was, however, an interesting moment when an African representative of Partners in Health told the story of how a Belgian company had asked for $50,000 to widen a road leading up to the clinic so supplies could be trucked in. That was far more than could be afforded, and the director had had to go back to the community with bad news. The next day, over one hundred citizens, many sick or weak, had taken their pickaxes and machetes and in a short period of time had widened the road for the six kilometers necessary for supplies to come through.
The story was meant to show the venality and Halliburton-like extortion of the road-building company (which was Belgian). I, on the other hand, wondered why the villagers hadn't widened the road beforehand. Why had they not roused themselves to better their conditions until forced, by anger or necessity, to do something? I'm sure I don't know even a tenth of the story: but in its balance of triumph and tragedy, extortion and infuriating passivity, it seemed to represent fairly accurately the complexities of international development, charitable activity, and the needs of all to live with dignity and self-determination.