“I know all this stuff because I’m a nerd,” the globetrotting physician-anthropologist said October 6 at UIndy’s Christel DeHaan Fine Arts Center. But the stories he tells from his work in West Africa, Haiti, and elsewhere are chilling, and the questions he poses are troubling. Why did the Marburg virus kill only 22 percent of the people who contracted it in Germany, but 90 percent of those it touched in Angola? Why did all 11 Americans who contracted Ebola last year survive, while thousands died in West Africa? The answer is simple, according to Farmer. In many developing nations, the personnel, supplies, and facilities required for even basic public health care—the “staff, stuff, and space,” in his parlance—are simply missing.
“You don’t even have to waste too much time on a needs assessment. It’s really about money and political will,” said Farmer, who chairs the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School.
“If you think doctors are important to health care, they don’t have those. They don’t have a lot of nurses, either. And they don’t have managers—oh, and they don’t have electricity and water in the facilities. And it goes on and on.” When the industrialized world responds to such events with charity efforts, the money often comes late, fails to reach the neediest recipients, and seldom goes toward the reinforcement of basic health care systems for the long term, he said.
That’s why the international organization Farmer cofounded (and for which he is chief strategist), Partners in Health, focused its Haiti response on establishing a teaching hospital where tomorrow’s health care professionals are trained. Farmer, who has written extensively about “health care as a human right,” was introduced to the stage by Dr. Alyson O’Daniel, an assistant professor of Anthropology who studies health-related issues in society. She said his books have been an inspiration in her own career.
“His work introduced me to how social inequality gets under the skin,” she said.
Author Tracy Kidder brings work of Farmer to light
Dr. Paul Farmer and his work are the subject of the 2003 best-selling biography Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World, by Tracy Kidder. Farmer’s October appearance was part of this year’s University Series, which hosted Mountains author Tracy Kidder November 12.
Considered a master of creative nonfiction and literary journalism, Kidder won the Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction and the National Book Award for Nonfiction with his second book, The Soul of a New Machine, which follows a team of researchers in the early 1980s struggling to design a new microcomputer. Other recent books have included 2005’s My Detachment: A Memoir, reflecting on Kidder’s 1967–69 tour of duty in Vietnam; 2009’s Strength in What Remains, an account of a Burundian refugee’s search for purpose in the United States; and 2013’s Good Prose: The Art of Nonfiction, coauthored with his longtime editor Richard Todd. He also has published collections of short fiction and written many nonfiction articles for periodicals including the Atlantic and New Yorker.
‘Forgiveness is a seed of peace’
Holocaust survivor Eva Kor spreads message of hope at UIndy
Eva Mozes Kor, an Auschwitz survivor who became an internationally known advocate for forgiveness, shared her story November 3 at UIndy. The presentation, “Remembering the Holocaust,” was part of UIndy’s annual Interfaith Lecture, presented by the Office of Ecumenical & Interfaith Programs and the University Series. She shared life lessons about the dangers of prejudice, “a cancer of the human soul,” and the vital importance of forgiveness, which she calls “the seed of peace.”
Born Jewish in a small Romanian village, Kor and her family were sent to the notorious Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland, where her parents and two older sisters perished. She and her twin sister, Miriam, were subjects of Josef Mengele’s medical experiments and among the few who survived to be liberated by Soviet troops. She immigrated to Israel, where she attained the rank of sergeant major in the Israeli Army Engineering Corps and met American tourist and fellow survivor Michael Kor. The two married in 1960 and moved to the United States, settling in Terre Haute, Ind.
In 1984, Kor and her sister founded Children of Auschwitz Nazi Deadly Lab Experiments Survivors, or CANDLES, an effort to reunite and build connections among surviving Mengele twins around the world. In 1995, Kor founded the CANDLES Holocaust Museum and Education Center, which was firebombed and destroyed in 2003 only to reopen two years later with significant local and national support to continue educating thousands of visitors.
Kor has returned many times to Auschwitz and continues to give tours of the museum and make public presentations, often to schoolchildren. She also worked with state legislators on a law that requires Holocaust education in Indiana secondary schools. Sometimes stirring controversy with her public expressions of personal forgiveness toward the Nazis, she stands behind those statements.
“Forgiveness is the best revenge,” she said that evening, “because from the moment you forgive, the perpetrator no longer has any power over your life.”