The Conspiracy

The Global Citizen: Helping Haiti and the Importance of Grassroots NGOs

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The Global Citizen is a joint project of New Voices and the American Jewish World Service (AJWS). Throughout the year, a group of former AJWS volunteers will offer their take on global justice, Judaism and international development. Opinions expressed by Global Citizen bloggers do not necessarily represent AJWS.

I forgot to bring a flashlight, rain jacket, and extra pairs of socks to Uganda, but somehow, three clunky novels made their way into my duffel bag. I did not expect the rest of my group to be equally passionate about reading. The nineteen of us collected a sharing library of about forty books. As soon as we finished our own reading material, we browsed the shelves to see what our friends brought. Discussions during meals often turned into Oprah’s book club; we argued about our favorite characters, defending their actions and choices. The non-fictions works sparked political debates—we did not shy away from controversial subjects. If anything, the books provided us a reason to share what was really on our mind, especially as we encountered some of those topics in real life. It was interesting to read about microfinance, HIV/AIDS, and poverty alleviation and then experience it on the ground through our volunteer work with a local Ugandan community.

One book that unanimously won the approval of our American Jewish World Service Volunteer Summer group was Tracy Kidder’s Pulitzer Prize winning non-fiction account Mountain Beyond Mountains. It’s an intimate portrait of world-renowned professor and humanitarian Dr. Paul Farmer. Through intimate interviews and personal reflections on time spent with the doctor abroad and in the US, Kidder introduces readers to a remarkable thinker and visionary who humbly dedicated his life to revolutionizing healthcare practices in the developing world. His organization, Partners in Health, focuses on treating infectious diseases in the world’s most impoverished countries, and his work has saved the lives of millions. I immediately bought both my parents copies when I got home.

Reading Mountains Beyond Mountains changed my perspective on the global health crisis. I found a new hero: Dr. Farmer showed me that social change happens on a person-to-person basis. Kidder describes how Farmer would hike for miles in the mountains of Haiti to visit just one patient. And yet, even though he remembers most of his patients by their first name, he is the founder of one of the most successful international NGO’s. How is it that one man is able to translate personal care and attention into a philosophy that governs the mission statement of a huge organization?

When I read the news about the earthquake in Haiti, I was heartbroken. The last thing Haiti needed, a country already rife with social problems, were the pulverizing effects of a natural disaster. My university almost immediately set up a fundraiser asking students to contribute. Our on-campus chapter of Face Aids will match the funds. The funds are to be donated to Partners in Health.

Mountains Beyond Mountains affirms the importance of the NGO presence in the developing world. Farmer’s work in Haiti over the last twenty-five years has established a working network of clinics around the country that were ready to work the moment disaster struck. It’s thanks to visionaries like Farmer that help can get to those who need it.

Support organizations like Partners in Health or American Jewish World Service that have been working in Haiti for the last 25 years.

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