Friday, April 15, 2022

Dr. Paul Farmer


A Tribute to Paul Farmer who died February 21, 2022
Paul Farmer
Doctor Paul Edward Farmer was born in 1959. He was the second of six children; he grew up in the mill town of North Adams, Massachusetts. In 1966, the family moved to Alabama and later relocated to Florida in 1971. They were so poor that they lived in a bus that his father had purchased in auction. There, as a young boy, he picked fruit with Haitian migrant workers and was probably influenced by that experience. The extent of the economic deprivation that he felt growing up helped him understand what it means to be without, and may have inspired him to devote his life’s energy to those in need.
Farmer is widely known for his remarkable and unrelenting service to the people of Haiti, driven by his desire to provide good quality health care and assistance to the impoverished people of that country. In addition, he has been a strong advocate for Haiti in the international arena and has been particularly critical of what he sees as America’s plan for fixing the nation’s enfeebled economy.
In order to have a clearer understanding of the economic and political forces that have come to shape present-day Haiti, it is important to have an historic perspective of this beleaguered country. Hispaniola was colonized by Christopher Columbus’ brother, Bartolomeo, for Spain in 1496. He established the capital at Santo Domingo (Dominican Republic) on the eastern side of the island. In 1697, the Treaty of Ryswick ceded France dominion over the western half of the island – present day Haiti. During the eighteenth century, Haiti operated as a slave colony and a leading port of call for slave ships. By the latter part of that century, nearly one out of every three slaves, who arrived in Haiti, died within a few years of reaching the colony.
In 1791, a revolt began against French domination. This revolt was led by François-Dominique Toussaint L'Ouverture (May 20, 1743 – April 7, 1803). Toussaint led enslaved blacks in a long struggle for independence over the French colonizers; ultimately, his movement abolished slavery, and secured "native" control over the Haitian colony. In 1797, following his victory, L’Ouverture expelled the French commissioner Léger-Félicité Sonthonax, as well as the British army; freed the slaves in neighboring Santo Domingo, and wrote a Constitution naming himself governor-for-life.
Between the years 1800 and 1802, Toussaint L'Ouverture - translated from the French, his name literally means “all saints” or “all souls opening” - tried to rebuild the collapsed economy of Haiti and reestablish commercial contacts with the United States and Britain. His rule permitted the colony a taste of freedom which, after his death in exile, was gradually undermined during the successive reigns of a series of despots. His last words were to his son in France, "My boy, you will one day go back to St. Domingo; forget that France murdered your father."
In 1804, the independent state of Haiti was formed and it was declared as a safe haven for runaway slaves. It is important to note here that the United States government refused to recognize Haiti’s independence. Sadly, the native population of Haiti is no longer extant; they were eliminated as a result of the Spanish domination that preceded the arrival of the French.
In 1825, King Charles X of France recognized the independence of the country only on condition that an indemnity of 150 million Francs - approximately one-half million dollars - be paid and that an agreement be reached regarding a reduction of import and export taxes placed on French goods; this arrangement was tantamount to extortion. These repayments continued until after World War II. The effect of this agreement was devastating to the Haitian economy in that it represented a mass transfer of wealth from the poor indigenous people of Haiti to wealthy foreigners.
From 1915 through 1934, Haiti was occupied by the U.S. military. The United States occupation of Haiti began on July 28, 1915, when 330 US Marines landed at Port-au-Prince as directed by President Woodrow Wilson. They were dispatched to the island with the express purpose of protecting U.S. corporate interests. It ended on August 1, 1934, during the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt.
Farmer first traveled to Haiti in 1983 while it was under the harsh dictatorship of the Duvalier family. At that time, it was considered to be the poorest country in the western world. Baby Doc Duvalier who was “President for Life” fled the country in 1986. The first attempt at democratic elections was undertaken the following year; the fragile nature of this movement towards democracy was made apparent by the fact that a massacre took place at one of the polling stations.
In 1990, Father Jean-Bertrand Aristide ran for President and on Dec 16, 1990 he won sixty-seven percent of the popular vote. He was a catholic priest who was an avid proponent of liberation theology and believed strongly in the, “preferential option for the poor,” reminiscent of the work and mission of Father Romero of El Salvador. He voiced opposition to the policies of Pope John Paul II and Ronald Reagan, President of the United States. As a consequence, President Bush, who succeeded Reagan, funded Aristide’s opposition and cut off aid. The paramilitary group Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti (FRAPH) rose to prominence and staged a coup on September, 1991 that left one thousand dead. Aristide ultimately returned to power in 1994.
Before the devastating effect of the recent earthquake, the Haitian economy was already in terrible shape. By the year 2000, the entire budget for Haiti, with a population of eight million people, was less than the budget of Cambridge, Massachusetts, a city of 100,000 individuals.
Farmer graduated from Harvard Medical School with an ancillary PhD degree in anthropology. He worked in Haiti for eight months out of every year without pay, serving peasants who had lost their land as a result of the construction of a hydroelectric dam. For the remaining four months of each year, he worked in Boston living in a church sanctuary. He was briefly expelled from Haiti during the reign of the military junta, but managed to sneak back into the country by bribing government officials. In 1994, Jimmy Carter was dispatched by President Bill Clinton to try to persuade the junta to abdicate their pernicious rule of the country.
The tireless energy of Farmer on behalf of the people of Haiti has earned him the affectionate title of the, “poor people’s doctor.” In 1999, he also worked at the Brigham and Women’s hospital in Boston and was the Professor of Medicine and Medical Anthropology at Harvard Medical School.
Farmer’s primary concern and professional interest lies in the realm of the relationship between economic inequality and infectious disease. In his mind, many of the premature deaths that occur throughout the world from uncontrolled infectious diseases are a direct result of the mal-distribution of medical technologies. He is never reluctant to fault the rich countries for their failure to address this issue on a global scale, especially his home country, the United States.
On account of his strong commitment to the service of those in need and his passion to do whatever he can to counter the dire effects of poverty, he has created a remarkable community referred to as Partners in Health (PIH) in Zammi Lasante. This complex includes a woman’s clinic, a general hospital, an Anglican Church, a kitchen that prepares meals for 2,000 people daily and a treatment center for Tuberculosis (TB). This medical center possesses two laboratories and an ambulatory clinic that serves hundreds of people. One million peasant farmers - in a country of eight million -depend upon this facility. The per capita income of the average Haitian is about one dollar per day. Twenty-five percent of Haitians die before the age of 40. Farmer is so committed to the health and well-being of the people of Haiti that no one is turned away. In addition, PIH helps build schools, water systems and manages a vaccination program with the goals of vaccinating all children, reducing malnutrition and decreasing infant mortality.
In 1993, Farmer was awarded a MacArthur Genius Grant of $220,000 for his efforts. He donated the entire sum to PIH. The following is an excerpt of his acceptance speech on receiving this grant: “The individuals who are living in dire poverty throughout the world may well exceed one billion in number. The suffering, starvation and premature death that is a consequence of this poverty is unconscionable in a world where the wealthiest nations enjoy an abundance and have ready access to a multiplicity of resources that are denied to so many of their fellow humans. In many regards, the scale of this suffering is due to a lack of access to an adequate food supply, appropriate medical technology, education and basic information.”
Dr. Paul Farmer had dedicated his life to demonstrate that these horrific conditions can be effectively ameliorated, if not entirely eliminated, by making available to everyone what is currently available only to some

Thursday, April 14, 2022

Anna Arnold Hedgeman


Anna Arnold Hedgeman


Anna Arnold Hedgeman was born in the late 19th century (1899) in the small town of Marshalltown, Iowa.  As a small child, her family moved to Anoka, Minnesota – they were the only black family in their local community.  Her parents, William James Arnold II and Marie Ellen (Parker) Arnold, placed a great deal of value and importance upon education and scholarship.  They were also active in their community, and Hedgeman did not experience any notable discrimination while growing up.  However, she was to feel the full weight of racial prejudice later in her adult life.

 Following her graduation in 1918, Hedgeman continued her education at Hamline University In Saint Paul, Minnesota – a private liberal arts college founded in 1854.  This university places a strong emphasis on experiential learning, service, and active engagement in issues of social justice.

As a student at the university, she attended a lecture given by Dr. W.E.B. DuBois – a famous sociologist and historian (1868 – 1963) - that she found inspirational and helped direct her aspirations towards a career in education.  She graduated from Hamline University in 1922 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English.  She was the first person of color to earn a degree at Hamline University.

One of her first positions post-graduation was a teaching position at Rust College in Holly Springs, Mississippi. Rust College is an historic black college founded in 1866 during the brief period of post-war Reconstruction (1865 – 1877). During her stay in Rust College in the heart of the Deep South she suddenly experienced the full impact of Jim Crow (as discussed previously). She was awakened to this reality even before she arrived in Mississippi by train, for she was obliged to sit in the “colored” car behind the locomotive and was denied access to the dining car on account of the color of her skin as soon as the train departed from the Cairo, Illinois train station. This demeaning experience sharpened her awareness of the true nature of racism within the United States.

After two years at Rust College, she moved back to Minnesota to find racial barriers confront her when she tried to find a teaching position. In 1924, she accepted a position as executive director of the black branch of the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) in Springfield, Ohio; she remained in that position until 1938.

For the following ten years she worked at a number of high-level positions including serving as the Assistant Dean of Women at Howard University. By 1948, she turned her attention to a political career and worked for the Harry Truman campaign for President of the United States, and went on to become the first black woman to serve on the cabinet of then New York Mayor Robert F. Wagner Jr. In this role, she gained a reputation as a strong advocate for civil rights and was recruited by Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin to plan and coordinate the 1963 March on Washington that was highlighted earlier in this book (see the chapter devoted to John Lewis). Serving as the Coordinator of Special Events for the Commission of Religion and Race of the National Council of Churches, Hedgeman convinced some 40,000 Protestants to participate in this march on August 28, 1963, that brought hundreds of thousands of individuals to the nation’s capital.

On account of her wide-ranging experience and professional career especially in regard to her inexhaustible advocacy in the area of equal rights for African-Americans, Hedgeman became a sought-after lecturer at black colleges and universities throughout the United States. She authored a number of books that highlighted her efforts including, The Trumpet Sounds (1964) and The Gift of Chaos (1977). Hedgeman died on January 7, 1990.

As an African-American woman, Hedgeman came to understand the deleterious impact of racism on the lives of people of color within the United States and dedicated herself to help make substantive changes in this cultural dynamic that remains a persistent aspect of the national landscape.

Excerpted from Comments and Reflections Regarding Life's Journey

             I seem to be in the midst of struggling with the prospect of ageing that dominates the horizon of my remaining years.  It is no easy matter to find accommodation with the ineluctable reality that body is no longer as capable of doing the complete bidding of my wishes and desires.  In regard to my intrinsic abilities I can no longer trust them as completely as I used to.  Of course, this comes as no great surprise, and to resist this reality is, of course, futile.

To me the only sensible course is acceptance.  Furthermore, a recognition of individual mortality has an additional benefit.  That benefit resides within an increased and more acute awareness of the wondrous qualities and subtleties and intrinsic beauty that imbues every passing moment.  The world presents me with a remarkable array of details and perspectives present in the simplest of experiences if I choose to open myself to them. 

In my mind, if I allow myself to be caught up within the intricate fabric of distractions produced and sustained by the modern world the unfortunate consequence is that the precious moments are lost within the crazy-quilt miasma of contrived existence.  It is, after all, an inventive and intricate shadow world that envelops the modern human world that constantly demands our complete attention.  Much of this shadow world is wrapped in the comforting domain of the pursuit of material possessions.  The potpourri of images and manifestations of objects that are continually fed into the sensory apparatus of the thinking brain are presented to us as palpable vehicles designed to enhance our chances for individual happiness whether it be a shiny new car, an ensemble of fabulous clothes that would improve our sexual appeal, all manner of so-called “hygiene products” that have become our necessary companions in the social world, labor-saving devices that are guaranteed to free up our time and bring us even more happiness, and on and on – the list is seemingly without end.

Moments lost to these distractions cannot be regained.  Life cannot be rewound.  Life proceeds moment to moment through a continuum of choices.  Modern living demands heightened unquestioned passivity to the multi-faceted norms that have been carefully constructed for mass consumption.  This intricate structure is indeed a reality of a kind, but it is not representative of the natural world and by its nature is impermanent and can readily implode upon itself.  Many examples exist of such an internal collapse have been reported through the course of history of human civilizations.


We are representatives of a sentient species – our home is planet earth.  We are by no means the sole inhabitants on Spaceship Earth, although we often behave as we should be and possess a seeming determination to make it so.  What we will accomplish, however, if we do not awaken from our collective stupor, is to craft an environment that will ultimately be unable to sustain us.  This is the height of stupidity, for we seem to relish the idea of killing each other over issues that are more contrived than real, undermine our collective future by our continued raping of the natural world, and endanger our future rather than embrace peace, harmony, and real and substantial social justice.

Without the presence of Homo sapiens, the earth will continue to spin on its axis, revolve around its sun and move through time within a vast and wondrous cosmos.  Our continued existence as a species is not required and is certainly not a necessary component of the working universe. 

As products of our collective imagination, the panoply of gods, ethereal beings, spirits, demons, apparitions, etc. will all vanish when humans are no longer extant.  They have no substance outside the realm of the human brain.  The universe, however, is real, time is substantial and each moment is transient.  Within this fabulous matrix our individual selves are created and move on time’s ineluctable trajectory until our individual brains cease to function and the molecular organization that sustains us unravels joining us once again to the chaos and ferment of creation.  We may pretend that this is not reality; we may put our faith in fabulous ideas of other-worldliness, but it is not matter for it changes nothing.  Self-delusion may provide comfort but it changes nothing.  We may choose to embrace death with the belief that there is something more, but it changes nothing.  Reality has no need of either our acquiescence or resistance, for when the brain ceases to function, as individuals we are no longer.  It is that simple. 


In my thinking, if I choose delusion over reality, I choose to engage the pretend version of existence and fail to appreciate the vivid reality that surrounds me.  What I do know is that while I continue to have a conscious existence it is my responsibility to fully appreciate that I am a living witness to the wonders around me no matter how brief my sojourn.  I am, after all, grounded to this Earth, lungs filled with the air that sustains me, a body that moves me through life and the marvelous organ of the human brain that is me.

If I can embrace myself so thoroughly and completely than I can embrace everything.  Once stripped of the array of filters that distort existence in order to fit into prescribed limits, it is then that I can truly see and understand what it is to be human.  There is an inseparable bond between the ability to see with clarity and love, compassion and understanding.  We are all, in fact, flawed creatures, imperfect on account of the evolutionary path of our species, mortal by design, contained within the architecture of our brains, yet we are collectively capable of so much more than the disastrous and unsettling choices we have made to date.


Think of the world we could craft if all humans were to fully incorporate the truth that we are all (the eight billion of us) members of the same human family rather than continuing to pursue the current idea that we are somehow intrinsically separate based upon contrived differences in race, belief systems, political ideology, sexual preference etc.  Think of the world we could craft if we finally stopped killing each other for no good or apparently justifiable reasons.  Think of the world we could craft if we seriously began to be responsible stewards of our earthly home rather than actively undermining the natural world that sustains us.  Think of the world we could inhabit if we finally took full responsibility for our collective fate rather than allow ourselves to move about in a delusional reality of our own making that presumes that a super-human being(s) is “watching over us.”  If we were to bring about our own self-destruction tomorrow, the cosmos would be completely unaffected and the movement of time would be unimpaired.  The human species is not a required component for the running of the universe machine.