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Farmer’s Inspirational Genius

Dr. Paul Farmer believed in liberation theology, in finding Christ among the poor, the suffering, and the helpless.
By Skoll Foundation - Deep Leadership: Interior Dimensions of Large Scale Change, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=115444658
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Dr. Paul Farmer believed in liberation theology, in finding Christ among the poor, the suffering, and the helpless.

Hello, my name is Andrea Elise and I live in Amarillo, Texas. About 15 years ago, a fellow English major and friend told me about a book that changed his life.

Hello, my name is Andrea Elise and I live in Amarillo, Texas.

About 15 years ago, a fellow English major and friend told me about a book that changed his life.

I was intrigued, and almost immediately read Mountains Beyond Mountains, a biography of Dr. Paul Farmer written by Tracy Kidder and published by Random House in 2004.

Paul Farmer was one of the most incredible-to-imagine human beings who graced the earth. If you envision Mother Theresa was the saint of the poor, then Paul Farmer was their savior.

“Mountains Beyond Mountains” is a Haitian proverb that means a person can solve one problem, but then another problem will surface. Its literal translation is: “God gives but he doesn’t share.”

While the proverb might sound disheartening, it can also be hopeful because of people like Paul Farmer.

We learn at the outset of Paul’s genius: he was a Harvard-educated medical doctor and famous infectious-disease specialist. In addition to those accolades, he held a PhD. in anthropology and won the MacArthur genius grant in 1993. He wrote countless books and scholarly articles.

But that is just the beginning of Dr. Farmer’s calling. From the time he was a medical student, Paul became immersed in the problems of Haiti and its residents. He was particularly horrified by the number of people with tuberculosis there.

His work was a Sisyphean task: the poverty in Haiti made it nearly impossible for people to get treatment. Of those who WERE able to receive antibiotics, many developed what was called MDR: Multi-Drug Resistant TB.

Those individuals had spent their meager “income” on treatment that didn’t work, and they often staggered back to their dusty villages to die. This was the case in Peru too, where Paul Farmer later expanded his crusade.

The number of flight hours Paul logged from Boston to Haiti, to Peru, back to Boston is staggering.

He spent his time on the ground literally running 11 hours straight across hills, mountains and country sides to get to his makeshift “hospitals” to see as many patients as possible, before running back to catch another flight.

Even when he contracted a severe case of Hepatitis A in 1997, Paul continued to make calls for drug procurement in Peru and to check in with patients and colleagues on a regular basis.

He was fortunate to have financial assistance from a few groups and individuals, but it was Paul’s mission to cure infectious diseases and bring the lifesaving tools of modern medicine to as many people as possible.

Liberation theology, in which Paul believed, implies (metaphorically) that if you want to go where Christ is crucified, go to the poor, to the suffering, to the helpless. That is what he did.

Paul also co-founded Partners in Health (PIH), using his philosophy that “the only real nation is humanity.”

Throughout the decades-long work, Paul found time to marry and have three children.

Dr. Paul Farmer died in February of this year at the young age of 63.

Sometimes the universe is unkind and steals our most precious and needed allies and resources. One wonders if there will be another Paul Farmer in our lifetime, a brilliant, energetic, humble soul who gives every ounce of his mind, heart, and being to help those who cannot help themselves.

Rest in peace, Dr. Farmer. The world will never forget your tireless work, your impact on the world, your grace.

This is Andrea Elise for High Plains Public Radio Readers Book Club.

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