Health breeds hope

Where there is health, there is hope.

Source: Village Health Works

Village Health Works, an organization that provides health care to impoverished citizens in the rural, African nation of Burundi, operates on this very principle. Its founder, Deogratias, a native of Burundi, climbed from penniless refugee to founder of a clinic and public health system.

Pulitzer Prize-winner Tracy Kidder‘s latest book, “Strength in What Remains,” tells of Deo’s struggle to flee his homeland in search of a better life. After trailing Deo for two years in both the U.S and Burundi, Kidder gathered the facts and figures he needed to tell this man’s remarkable journey.

Deo’s escape from the violence in Burundi landed him in New York City. One objective of Kidder’s book is to show his readers an America that is otherwise invisible – the service entrances of New York City’s Upper East Side mansions and Central Park homeless camping sites – all part of Deo’s world. Although initially penniless, homeless and unemployed, within a few years Deo had enrolled as an undergraduate at Columbia University, and, later, medical school.

Kidder’s portrayal of Deo shows a man helping to establish a Burundi where violence is replaced by community outreach. Deo’s contribution: launching a clinic in Burundi in 2007. In a public lecture in Raleigh, North Carolina Kidder showed us several slides highlighting the unmet need of adequate healthcare: A photo of an abandoned boy, almost too emaciated to stand; A little boy with hydrocephalus; A woman with untreated goiter – a swollen thyroid gland larger than her neck; An older boy with burn spots across his belly from trying to dampen the pain of his malaria-induced enlarged spleen.

Another goal of Kidder’s book is to show readers what life in Burundi can be like. Kidder said in his lecture, “[In this book] I also hoped to humanize what, to most Westerners anyway, is a mysterious, little-known part of the world. We hear about mass slaughter in distant countries. . . Deo’s story opens up one of those places into a comprehensible landscape.”

Kidder met Deo in a chance encounter. The common link? Paul Farmer, the protagonist in Kidder’s book, “Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World.” (This inspiring book makes my top ten list.)

Deo had become involved with Partners in Health, an organization founded by Paul Farmer. Farmer, the altruistic, entrepreneurial doctor and leader in international health, has made his life’s work – and this is the mission of Partners in Health – to provide a preferential option for the poor in health care. “O for the P,” as Farmer calls it.

Partners in Health-based medical care crosses cultural barriers, as Farmer and his colleagues help the sick and injured in several developing nations. The oldest and largest of these projects, Zanmi Lasante in Haiti, began as a community clinic and has blossomed into a medical center.

Deo’s clinic in Burundi is off to a good start. A 500-liter tank brings filtered water to the clinic. Several small buildings are equipped with beds, examining rooms and sterile equipment. There’s even a solar array to bring electricity. Over time Deo’s clinic might just be the next Zanmi Lasante.

This is the clinic. Source: Village Health Works


2 responses to “Health breeds hope

  1. What are the other 9 books on your ten best book list … (or a link)?

    • proteinsgonewild

      Ooooh, good question. Also hard, so I’m listing nine here, but I might change my mind. Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking, Jeffrey Eugenides’ Middlesex, Anita Diamant’s The Red Tent, Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, David Sedaris’ Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, John Irving’s The World According to Garp, Roald Dahl’s The BFG, and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.

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