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26332: Craig (news) Success in Haiti - one program at a time (fwd)
From: Dan Craig <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Success in Haiti - one program at a time
Paul Farmer's Partners in Health organization has won the world's largest
By Jennifer Moeller | Contributor to The Christian Science Monitor
When Paul Farmer founded the nonprofit Partners in Health in Haiti in the late
1980s, he thought providing healthcare would be enough. But soon he found that
Haitians needed much more.
They needed personal bank accounts, for one thing. They needed concrete floors,
tin roofs, safe drinking water, and schools.
"It's not going to be enough to do a vaccination program," says Partners in
Health (PIH) president and executive director Ophelia Dahl. "You have to fix
the water, make sure people have houses."
So PIH teamed up with a Haitian microlending bank, Fonkoze, to open branches at
all of its clinics. PIH also asked Haitians what else needed to be done and
included them in the process.
The nonprofit's multifaceted and unconventional approach to aid attracted the
attention of a major philanthropic foundation. It's the latest recipient of
this year's $1.5 million Hilton Prize, an annual humanitarian award that will
be announced Monday.
"This is the best thing that's ever happened to us," says Dr. Farmer of the
award. "I have had personal accolades before," he adds, but "the Hilton prize
is all about the team."
"PIH combines idealism and brilliance to a degree I've never witnessed before
in the public charity arena," says bestselling author Tracy Kidder who
published a book about Farmer's work in 2003 ("Mountains Beyond Mountains").
"These are people who know where to draw the line. The point is not to build an
empire for PIH, but to start a movement to try to bring decent healthcare to
the poorest people in the world."
The intransigence of Haiti's poverty, political turmoil, and environmental
degradation is well known. It surfaces in the media periodically. Haiti's
recent history includes desperate waves of Haitian "boat people" landing in
Florida, the overthrow of a dictator, the democratic election of a president
(and his subsequent overthrow last year), and devastating floods that killed an
estimated 3,000 people last September.
Haiti is "living on NGOs [nongovernmental organizations], private initiatives,
church groups, that take the place of state-sponsored services," says Kathie
Klarreich, author of "Madame Dread," a book about Haiti. "Initiatives like
Partners in Health are invaluable because they pick up what the government is
unwilling or unable to do."
"We have refused to be defeated," PIH director Dahl says. With the money from
the prize, "we'll continue to do what we've been trying to do with more
PIH "puts people first," says Catherine Maternowska, an assistant professor at
the University of California, San Francisco, and a medical anthropologist who
worked in Haiti for 22 years. "Although that doesn't sound like it's an
anomaly, it is," she says.
PIH has extended its approach to healthcare and ending poverty to Guatemala,
Mexico, Peru, Russia, Rwanda, and the United States.
PIH is one of many groups working to alleviate world suffering. Recently, a
spate of high-profile charities, governments, and other organizations have
announced their intention to help end poverty. Paul Farmer attributes this
sudden awareness to the increasingly interconnected world. "I could see images
in rural Rwanda from Katrina every day," he says. "I don't think that was the
case a decade ago."
He is sober about Haiti, but committed. "Conditions in Haiti are not
improving," Farmer says, but people on the ground there still have hope for the
future. Dahl agrees: "I have enormous faith that Haiti can become stable again,
but I don't think that it became unstable on its own and will need help
becoming stable again." For more than a century, Haiti was the source of
two-thirds of France's imports, Farmer notes. "It would be great if people
would acknowledge that the state of Haiti was because of the resources we took
In a country like Haiti, an organization that has found success can offer a
glimpse of what is needed to help bring about change. What Haiti most needs now
is "for other countries to respect their autonomy" and a democratic government,
Farmer says. It also needs "support from NGOs like us and real support from our
government," Dahl adds.
PIH has succeeded because its volunteers understand the history of Haiti and
work with the community to find solutions to the problems it faces, says Bob
Maguire, a Haiti expert and professor of international affairs at Trinity
University. PIH seems "very deeply rooted in not only addressing a need but in
respecting the way the Haitians need to have their needs addressed," he says.
But success is grounded on more than identifying with the people. "You have to
have tremendous faith in humanity to keep you going," Dahl says. "Particularly
at the moment, it's a world that could be discouraging, but it's very important
not to look at the world in terms of problems - not to change the world, but
concentrate on one project at a time, one community at a time. And that if it's
done well, it will have an amplifying effect."