A Book Review: Haiti After the Earthquake

Ever since I first heard of Dr. Paul Farmer and his work with Partners in Health, I have been influenced for the better. Tracy Kidder’s book about how Dr. Farmer came to Haiti and eventually other countries gave me a glimpse into his passion for wellness and health by fighting some of the worst diseases. Having lived and worked overseas in healthcare in a community development/social work capacity, Dr. Farmer’s big picture approach was captivating for me.  And since I recently went to Haiti, and I had friends working there, I was apt to read Haiti After the Earthquake.

Having worked in Haiti for almost thirty years, Dr. Farmer writes  the story of Haiti’s most recent tragedy. He describes the effects of  the earthquake that occurred on January 12, 2010 and throughout the following year. He shares his experiences as a doctor providing medical services there and as a UN representative with the task of compiling and utilizing international help for Haiti. Each chapter caused  much reflection, and I took my time to slowly chew through the book. This book takes hold of the reader in a sense and walks you through the tragedy as though you are with a friend who truly knows the way. It is an honest account of the earthquake in January 2010 and the effects thereof. The writing winds you through the history of Haiti, what was happening just before the earthquake, and the progress made since. It is evident that Dr. Farmer has been working through how to help the people of Haiti for a very, very long time. At the end of the book, there are essays from people who have and are playing key parts in helping the people of Haiti. I enjoyed reading the different perspectives and foci of these folks.

I found the book to be inspiring, but not as a feel-good kind of inspiration where we all want to join the Peace Corps for a few days and then forget about everything except what is in front of us. The inspiration came from a doctor who loves the people of Haiti so much that he cannot sugarcoat anything about them. His prognosis for Haiti is realistic as we are with our own children, but he can see the potential for so much more. He presents the ideal situation, and he presents the reality. What I appreciated about Dr. Farmer’s writing is that there seems to be no room for bitterness or edge. He writes intelligently with a whole-world perspective, and with the end of each chapter, I felt I’d seen both sides to “Praxis and Policy” in exploring the years in Haiti before the earthquake,  “prevention vs. care” in regards to cholera, and so on.

The book inspired me to care more deeply about the world all around me. I learned a great deal about the connectedness of history with culture and governments. Dr. Farmer gave me hope that something can be done in spite of political agendas, apathy, red tape, corruption (within and without). And, in spite of all these obstacles, something should be done to help those in need regardless of how difficult it is or how much struggle it will invoke. I would recommend this book to anyone who is ready with open eyes to see a perspective of caring through vast struggle. A few of the end essays are harder to read as I learned more about the complexities of aid after the earthquake. It is hard to hope at times, but I think the point of Dr. Farmer’s writing is to invite us to help in spite of waning hope. We must see the need firstly, and we must care to help.

Disclaimer: I was provided a copy of this book for review by the publisher, Public Affairs Books. This is no way affects my review of this book. This is my own and true opinion.

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