| (Nobel Peace Prize Forum)|
"Here was a person who seemed to be practicing more than he preached, who seemed to be living, as nearly as any human being can, without hypocrisy. A challenging person, the kind of person whose example can irritate you by making you feel you've never done anything as important, and yet, in his presence, those kinds of feelings tended to vanish" (Kidder, "Behind the Book"). Paul Farmer is a renowned American doctor, medical anthropologist, and public health administrator. But according to Pulitzer Prize-winning author Tracy Kidder, impressive credentials are not all that make up the man. Farmer's early encounters with Haitians led him to dedicate his life to being an active advocate for health care for the poor. After co-founding the non-profit humanitarian organization, Partners in Health, he spawned revolutionary methods that dramatically improved conditions in several countries and opened the public's eyes to social injustices. Farmer's effect spans eleven countries and millions of people, but aside from achievements and success, his integrity and character are his true defining aspects ("Our Work"). Paul Farmer is an admirable figure not only for his fearless opposition in the face of adversity, but also for his capacity to surpass expectations and astounding dedication.
| (American Academy of Achievement (Daniel Wallace))|
Farmer's success stems from his fearlessness and daring optimism. Despite skepticism, he pioneered an unprecedented "community-based" method, which proved to be effective:
At the time, many experts, including those at the World Health Organization (WHO), said that if poor people in the developing world got this form of TB [multidrug-resistant tuberculosis], most would die. According to conventional beliefs, the medications would cost too much and the treatment would be too complicated. ("Paul Farmer Jr.")
Farmer was not afraid to challenge the preordained belief that multidrug-resistant tuberculosis could not be treated cost-effectively in poorer countries. To disprove skeptics, he and his colleagues went to a shantytown in Peru and applied their "community-based" method. His tremendous results prompted the World Health Organization to appoint him to set up further treatment programs ("Paul Farmer Jr."). Farmer made possible what almost no one thought was possible. His courage broke barriers and opened doors for the handling of multidrug-resistant TB and other infectious diseases such as HIV and AIDS. In addition to courage, Farmer is unwavering and optimistic: "That goal is nothing less than the refashioning of our world into one in which no one starves, drinks impure water, lives in fear of the powerful and violent, or dies ill and unattended. . . . Of course such a world is a utopia. . . . But all of us carry somewhere within us the belief that moving away from dystopia moves us towards something better and more humane" (Farmer qtd. in Vine). Although Farmer is aware of the utopian nature of his goal, he nonetheless holds strongly to his purpose. This optimism is what propelled him where he is today. People may question and doubt but Farmer continues to believe that as long as dystopia is moving farther away, a greater and more humane world is waiting.
| (The Boston College Chronicle (Mark Rosenberg))|
However, Farmer does not stand and wait for this greater world to come along-he works hard and consistently goes above and beyond. Evidence of this is his nonstop, hectic schedule: "There are lots of frequent - flyer miles and nights with three hours of sleep. Farmer's taken two vacations in 13 years-each forced by injury or illness" (Hellman). Farmer unmitigatedly dedicates his time, skills, and efforts. He has work in Haiti, Peru, Massachusetts, and Russia, to name a few. Along the way are conferences, lectures, fundraisers, and a personal life to juggle (Hellman). Farmer's wholehearted dedication is the foundation of his success. He exceeds expectations, contributing his abilities to vast extents, despite sacrifice to himself. Farmer also directly reaches out to his patients, often visiting them in their homes, engaging in light-hearted conversation, and even living alongside them "for nearly 10 months a year in a small house with no hot water in Cange" (Hellman). After trekking to a distant settlement to pay a personal visit to a patient, Farmer commented to Tracy Kidder,
And if it takes five-hour treks or giving patients milk or nail clippers or raisins, radios, watches, then do it. We can spend sixty-eight thousand dollars per TB patient in New York City, but if you start giving watches or radios to patients here, suddenly the international health community jumps on you for creating nonsustainable projects. If a patient says, I really need a Bible or nail clippers, well, for God's sake! (Kidder, Mountains)
More than just medications, Farmer believes that truly helping a patient is also considering their material and living circumstances. As one Haitian patient said, "Giving people medicine for TB and not giving them food is like washing your hands and drying them in dirt" (qtd. in Kidder, Mountains). Farmer takes into consideration each patient's individual needs. If he must go out of his way to ensure that a patient receives adequate treatment, then he will. His labor and wholesome understanding of his patients is characteristic of a true doctor for the people.
| (Parade Publications)|
Farmer's zealous involvement and sacrifice sets him apart from the average person. He spent some time as a medical volunteer at the Hospital St. Croix in Leogane, Haiti. After a pregnant young woman died from malaria because she could not afford enough blood for a transfusion, Farmer decided to raise money to build a blood drive: "He didn't stick around in Leogane to see the blood drive get installed. He'd found out that the hospital would charge patients for its use. He told me he had these thoughts. . . . 'I'm going to build my own . . . hospital. And there'll be none of that there, thank you' (Kidder, Mountains). Unlike the doctors and nurses that did nothing and accepted the young woman's fate, Farmer saw the injustice and wanted change. He recalled what the young woman's sister cried in Creole: "This is terrible. You can't even get a blood transfusion if you're poor . . . We're all human beings" (Kidder, Mountains). The young woman's death acted as an epiphany for Farmer. He resolved to build his own hospital with his own rules, and he did. Farmer did not choose to ignore the injustice or pretend he did not see it. His involvement and willingness to take action are essential elements of his work. Unlike many doctors and anthropologists, Farmer lived alongside his patients for decades (Vine). As he once said, the world's problems cannot be fixed without any cost to oneself (qtd. in Kidder, Mountains):
If you're making sacrifices, unless you're automatically following some rule, it stands to reason that you're trying to lessen some psychic discomfort. So, for example, if I took steps to be a doctor for those who don't have medical care, it could be regarded as a sacrifice, but it could also be regarded as a way to deal with ambivalence. . . . I feel ambivalent about selling my services in a world where some can't buy them. You can feel ambivalent about that, because you should feel ambivalent. (Farmer qtd. in Kidder, Mountains)
Through most eyes, what Farmer does every day may be thought of as a major sacrifice. He chose a path with hardships, but he views it as a way to cope with ambivalence. Farmer has seen many people forsaken of the most basic right of surviving, with the reason simply being that they were poor. So to him, his work is not a sacrifice because he is lessening his "psychic discomfort." In other words, because he is providing healthcare to those who otherwise could not afford it, he does not need to worry about feeling ambivalent.
Farmer embodies the traits of a hero: courage, dedication, and sacrifice. But he is just a human. He is a human who is a contradiction to what is usually associated with human nature. But he is a prime example of true humanity:
Besides, observes Tracy Kidder, "It's not as though what he's doing is somehow inhuman or superhuman. It's intensely human. When you hang out with Paul you begin to think that altruism is normal, and the other stuff we tend to think of as part of human nature-greed, selfishness, mendaciousness - that those are the things that are abnormal." (qtd. in Hellman).
In an age where people often hold themselves back because of what they think they can or cannot do, Farmer demonstrates courage against the odds. Through him, I understand that life is truly your own and opportunity is limitless. But more than that, although it should be common fact, Farmer deeply integrated into me the belief that no life matters less than any other. Farmer's actions are not derived from sympathy or pity but from genuine understanding of equity; he purely believes that it is the duty of the well to care for the sick and that "the idea that some lives matter less is the root of all that is wrong with the world" (qtd. in Kidder, Mountains). Farmer has inspired new generations - whether it be his own students at Harvard, aspiring humanitarians, or the common person-to surpass expectations and have the courage to stand against prejudice. Farmer does more and gives more than what is asked of him, succeeding, and seeking no other reward than seeing the poor get their fair share. In a world where it is viewed as rare and extraordinary, Farmer does what is right. He has been called a saint, a god, and a hero many times, but for him, "That's when I feel most alive... when I'm helping people" (qtd. in Kidder, Mountains).
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Last edited 4/19/2014 12:00:00 AM