Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Human Rights in Haiti- An admirable advocate

Haiti has been for years as much a place where suffering and human rights violations are rampant, as well as a place where love for family, friends and devout religion hold this frail society together. In order to understand Haiti's population we must first look at its history and the richness of its culture. Sadly the information we receive about Haiti is not only bent by the impact of the U.S. but it is also full of racism. Voodoo, one of the core aspect of this culture is not misunderstood but vilified by westerners. Yet, it is interesting when westerners like Paul Farmer take an active role not only in unmasking these myths, but to actually helping.
To understand Haiti’s AIDS situation, we must first look at the complex interaction between religious beliefs about death and social practices. Many anthropologists believe that there is a universal belief of life after death among cultures, a universal belief in immortality yet variation on the degree and type of interaction the living have with the dead. Arthur Lehman (2009) said that there is a basic human need to believe in ghosts and worship ancestors.
Voodoo or (Vodoun) has been the leading religion in Haiti for many years. Voodoo is a syncretic religion which encompasses ideology from Yoruban traditional ideology as well as Catholicism. It is an institutionalized religion with priests and ceremonies which has traditionally had a high reliance on secret societies. According to McCarthy Brown (in Lehman, 2009) as much as 90% of people in Haiti practice voodoo, making it a key aspect of Haitian population. This religion is very much intertwined with a belief in the power of spirits and the dead. There are loosely organized priesthoods where participants aim at being possessed to communicate with the main spirits of voodoo. Possession is a religious goal not something they fear. There are different practices between those Haitians in rural areas versus those in urban areas. Urban Haitians practices of Voodoo are a bit more in line with Catholic practices. Rural practices on the other hand, center more on family and friends, ceremonies are usually rituals held at local cementeries. Paul Farmer discusses some of these rural rituals in his narration of Dieudonne’s story when his family seeks the help of a hougan (a voodoo priest).  It is difficult to summarize the complexity of this religion. However, it is very important to understand it without judging it as inferior or evil in order to holistically analyze the social attitudes Haitians have about the effects, causation, and treatment of AIDS. Paul Farmer attempts to do this complicated task in his book, where his broad mission can be appreciated and very much commended despite his idealism.
Paul Farmer has been referred to as a God by some of his patients. He is an anthropologist and a physician. Farmer specialty is infectious disease and he has been an activist to care for patients of infectious diseases in many developing countries, including Peru, Mexico, Siberia, and Haiti. His mission is to provide equitable health care on a global scale. To do this he focuses on some of the poorest countries with most infectious diseases. In 1987 Paul Farmer along with others founded Partners in Health, a nonprofit organization providing health cares for poor countries. They treat over one thousand patients a day in Haiti. He drives over three hours to get from the capital to the poorest rural areas in Haiti to treat victims of tuberculosis, his mission is said to be not only medical but moral. According to Melissa Blogg (NPR All Things Considered) Farmer has been influenced by Liberation Theology which is an side branch of Catholicism which believes that to be a good Christian one must help the poorest people. It is an interpretation of the gospel where God and Jesus promote advocacy for the poor. It is interesting to see some subtle signs of his ideology in his book where he discusses the roles of Catholic priests (in Chapter 10).  In a book titled Mountains Beyond Mountains, Tracy Kidder makes quotes many statements by Farmer referencing his strong Catholic ideology. 
Regardless of the reason, Paul Farmer has done what many other only contemplate, usually on days like the holidays where we feel more compassionate, helping those truly in need. Most of the time those in need are in such predicament due to the political and economic exploitation of western colonization. We must realize that our position of privilege is very much a result of the exploitation of the poor in developing countries.
Discussion Questions:
1.      How did people from Do Kay rationalize or made sense of AIDS or Sida?
2.      What is the interplay between religious ideology in Haiti and view on health and disease, including causation and cures?
3.      What are the sociological effects of these views?
4.      What is Paul Farmer's underlined position and goals in his research?
5.      Is his bent towards Liberation Theology visible throughout his book and research?
6.      How has the U.S. played a role in the spread of AIDS in Haiti? What is the U.S. current position in regards to Haiti?
Paul FarmerThe following video highlights some of the work his organization provides for various part of the world, including Haiti.

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