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Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder chronicles the humanitarian work of Doctor Paul Farmer. Throughout, Farmer shows exemplary respect for the dignity of people and the basic rights that all humans deserve. In a consumerist society in which people obsess over material possessions, Paul Farmer diverges from the norm by embracing a simple life focused on helping others. He never accepts compensation for his work. The account portrays Doctor Farmer as he travels the world and treats patients with diseases like HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria. He connects with everyone that he works with; in his spirit of remarkable compassion, he does not acknowledge the vast differences that he has with these people.
The attitude of equality that Farmer possesses is admirable, because people often gravitate toward people that are similar to them. Nonetheless, there are certain rights that everyone deserves from birth as humans. When people are stripped of these rights, such action contradicts the Catholic Social Teaching regarding the rights and responsibilities of all people. Paul Farmer said, “Clean water and health care and schools and food and tin roofs and cement floors, all of these things should constitute a set of basics that people must have as birthrights.” While water is a necessity to life, 783 million people do not have access to clean water. On the other hand, people living in wealthy first world nations have abundant sources of water and don’t consider the endangerment of this resource. While most Americans have a wasteful attitude toward water consumption, Paul Farmer has witnessed firsthand the scarcity of clean water in third world countries. If people were more educated about this, they may adopt more conservative practices, as Farmer has.
There were certain aphorisms that Paul Farmer particularly liked, because they give a different outlook and perspective to his work: “It is the curse of humanity that it learns to tolerate even the most horrible situations by habituation.” This quote can be connected to the Catholic Social Teaching of rights and responsibilities of people. Every person deserves the means to live a decent life. However, humans have learned to adapt to deplorable situations that shouldn’t be suitable for people. People who have been privileged to be born in habitable conditions have the responsibility to help those living under terrible conditions in the third world.
The following two additional quotes give a perspective of health care that is under-emphasized in society: “Medical education does not exist to provide students with a way of making a living, but to ensure the health of the community,” and “The physicians are the natural attorneys of the poor, and the social problems should largely be solved by them.” Doctors are servants of the sick and vulnerable. It is a basic responsibility to take care of those less fortunate. This is described in the Catholic Social Teaching of options for the poor and vulnerable. Doctors should provide all people with the option of health care. Paul Farmer would hike miles to see sick patients who otherwise couldn’t be treated. This practice is impressive, because Farmer goes out of his way to help these people. Farmer did everything that he could to help the poor because he felt that it was his duty to do so.
When Paul Farmer spoke to the sister of the pregnant woman with malaria, she said the following heartbreaking quote “This is terrible. You can’t even get a blood transfusion if you’re poor…we’re all human beings”. They could not get any blood for the woman, who was a mother of five. Her and her unborn child passed away. This illustrates that sad reality in which poor people have to live. Poor people are far more susceptible to contagious diseases due to lack of sanitation and proper health care. Consequently, it is more likely for poor people to die of curable diseases. While Malaria is still present in the United States, we have access to technology and medicine that can hinder its proliferation. On the contrary, outbreaks are very common in third world countries because they don’t have the technology to control it. This story is particularly upsetting because if the doctors could have performed the blood transfusion, it would’ve been possible for her child to live. Because they didn’t have access to the blood that they needed, both people had to die.
The Haitian proverb that provides the title of the book, “Beyond mountains there are mountains,” holds a figurative meaning that can be related to Paul Farmer’s work. Mountains represent struggles in life. The proverb means that there will be many struggles in life to overcome. When you succeed in overcoming a “mountain”, there will always be another mountain beyond it. In the context of Haitian culture, this idea basically signifies that despite how hard life can be, continue to work to overcome the hardships. Life in Haiti is not easy, and the proverb reminds Haitians to persevere through the adversity. In the context of Paul Farmer’s work, the proverb means that with every sick person that Farmer will cure, there will always be hundreds more for him to help. There will always be sickness and disease in the world, so Farmer’s work will never truly be finished. Farmer never gives up, regardless of how many road blocks he faces. This quote can be applied to any aspect of life. It basically teaches to work hard and never give up, because life is full of mountains of overcome.
Two other key figures in Mountains Beyond Mountains are Ophelia Dahl and Tom White. They both work with Paul and contribute in different ways. Ophelia is very dedicated and volunteers her time helping Paul. She acts as an assistant to Farmer and helps carry out his projects. While Farmer is the brains of the operation, Ophelia helps ensure that his ideas become reality. Tom White helps Haitian people by donating a lot of money. He feels that innocent people don’t deserve to suffer and die. He also feels that money can solve all of the problems in Haiti, which is why he is such a passionate donor. Paul, Ophelia, and Tom all made a difference in Haiti through acts of compassion and selflessness. They reacted to social injustice by working toward change.
Mountains Beyond Mountains tells the inspirational story of Paul Farmer and his extraordinary work in countries like Haiti, Peru, and Russia. Farmer gave up everything in order to help people who are poor, sick, and in need. He saved the lives of thousand of people in third world countries. The Catholic Church teaches that we have a duty as humans to help one another. No one deserves to suffer and die of curable diseases, and Farmer has made it his personal mission to help these people. His dedication and passion for curing the world makes Paul Farmer a role model of social justice and mercy.
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