I was watching Rachel Maddow’s show the other night as she interviewed Tracy Kidder. Kidder has written several books including a moving one about Haiti called “Mountains beyond Mountains” that details the work of Paul Farmer and the organization Partners in Health (www.pih.org). Kidder also wrote a New York Times Op-Ed piece this week called “Country without a Net”. Please check out this information if you’re interested in learning more about Haiti. As Kidder talked with Rachel Maddow about a country that he clearly loves, he became more and more passionate about the ongoing needs of this cruelly destitute and misunderstood country.
I thought I’d use my blog entry as an opportunity to discuss the concept of social justice in light of the efforts of this one organization and its guiding principles as it works to serve the people of Haiti. This entry is, in part, a reaction to the hateful and unbelievably cruel comments of a radio talk show host who this week encouraged people to withhold giving. I do not even want to dignify this person by mentioning his name. The bigger reason for writing this entry is tied to my beliefs that most people do care, and will respond with gracious generosity when the need arises and the information is available. I believe there are very few people who could see the images of this disaster and not be moved to compassion.
PIH’s fight to provide quality health care should ring familiar to those of us who are paying attention to the current struggle in Congress regarding health reform. Partners in Health believe that health is a fundamental human right. In this endeavor the organization has developed a model of community based care. Their work is based on five principles: 1) Access to primary health care is the critical foundational piece to treat specific diseases, 2) Free health care and education for the poor so that all have access to quality health care, 3) Community Partnerships that involve community members at all levels from assessment to evaluation, 4) Addressing basic social and economic needs because fighting disease means fighting poverty, and 5) Serving the poor through the public sector is the most effective method to insure sustained access. PIH’s website states: “Service is the defining feature of PIH’s work, our trademark. Since our inception, it has served as a philosophy, an emblem, and a guide. We serve our patients, their communities, and the cause of equitable access to health care and other basic human rights”.
The values and principles of this organization fit the counseling profession’s definition of social justice. Samuel Gladding writes that major elements of a social justice approach includes helping clients identify and challenge the environmental limits to their success. The country of Haiti has and is facing monumental environmental limits. It’s now up to us whether they have any opportunity to challenge and overcome these limits.
Patricia Myers is a counselor, an associate professor of counselor education, and doctoral student.