Dr. Paul Farmer is a visionary and social activist who believes that all humans deserve to live a life free from poverty, premature death, and unnecessary suffering.
Dr. Farmer is the co-founder of Partners In Health and Chair of the Department of Global Health & Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School. He is considered to be one of the most passionate and influential voices for global health equity. His service to the poor in Haiti, Peru, Rwanda and Russia provides us with stellar examples of collaborative social change.
Dr. Farmer’s uplifting vision – full of creativity, passion, team work and determination – provides a concrete action plan for how we can make the world a safer, more humane, and equitable place.
In his book, To Repair The World, Dr. Farmer encourages each of us to strive in some way to move the world toward equity, peace, and prosperity. Given the groundbreaking work he has engaged in over the past thirty years, reading it is a pleasure. My favorite chapter is titled “Countering Failures of Imagination”. In it Dr. Farmer describes his first visit to Haiti in the early 1980s before beginning his medical training. His job, in a hot overcrowded medical clinic, was to take vital signs and give moral support to a harried Haitian doctor.
As the two young men developed a friendship, Paul Farmer had an Aha Moment: Working in the shabby facility lowered the Haitian doctor’s expectations about what was possible when it came to providing health care to people living in poverty. The assumption – that the only health care possible in rural Haiti was poor health care – was a Failure of Imagination.
Dr. Farmer goes on to say “that the great majority of global health experts and others who seek to attack poverty are hostages to similar failures of imagination. The result: Every day the clinic offered vivid reminders of the toll exacted by a lack of imagination. It wasn’t a failure to work long hours .. but rather a failure to imagine an alternative.. Most of my Haitian colleagues were unconvinced that excellence was possible.”
Dr. Farmer’s Aha Moment led to the Re-Envisioning of Health Care in Haiti and to the establishment of Partners in Health – an organization that is dedicated to raising the standard of health care for poor people around the world.
I had a similar Aha Moment about our nation’s child welfare system in 1999. After becoming a foster parent and learning that nearly 25,000 young people “age out’ of foster care without family and/or community and become the next generation of poor and homeless people in America. After talking with seasoned child welfare professionals who told me that the “aging out crisis” had been going on for their entire 30 year careers. After asking foster care experts what was the best way forward and hearing, “The system is broken. We can throw some programs and dollars at the “aging out crisis” but really other than that there is nothing that can be done to turn this ship around.” Failures of Imagination..
Dr. Paul Farmer established Partners in Health to counteract Failures of Imagination in Haiti. I established the Treehouse Foundation to inspire a Re-Envisioning of Foster Care in America. Following in Dr. Farmer’s footsteps, we have launched The Re-Envisioning Foster Care in America Movement and are collaborating with visionary Americans of all ages and backgrounds to create coast to coast collaborations designed to be a catalyst for widespread investment in foster care innovation.
Partners In Health is a force for justice and social change. It demonstrates quite clearly how important it is to engage in the movement to make the world safer, equitable and more humane. The Treehouse Foundation is standing under the banner of Shared Responsibility with Dr. Farmer and his colleagues. We are applying the lessons they have learned to the REFCA Movement. We are partnering with others to translate goodwill and resources into robust responses and sustainable solutions that result in all children having the opportunity to live healthy, connected and fulfilling lives.