A young American doctor puts his healing skills to use in the slums of Port-au-Prince–and calls to the outside world for assistance.
Dr. Bentivegna's patients would arrive at Sans Fil, the "Home for the Dying," abandoned by their families, who were unable to care for them. Mothers left their babies at the Children's Home, knowing that they would at least be well-fed. Amid the ulcers, abscesses, and infections, the primary malady afflicting all of Bentivegna's patients is poverty. As the doctor explains in his brief history of Haiti, deep economic and social stratification, and rampant institutional corruption, allow an elite minority to retain its privileges while the vast majority struggle to survive. Though nothing here will surprise those familiar with the country, this is a valuable primer for caution and humility on the part of anyone undertaking humanitarian aid. Constantly aware of his own limitations, Bentivegna is frank in his claim that piecemeal efforts by well-meaning outsiders often accomplish little, ultimately thwarted by corruption or unintended consequences. Specifically, food donations may prevent some from starving, but they also suppress the local economy because no farmer or merchant can compete with free handouts. Bentivegna avoids the arrogant paternalism of many doctors; he even adopts a Creole practice for consoling a grieved mother, and supplements his own words with Creole proverbs. Despite his intention, however, he presents the narrative from a slightly off-putting professional arm's length, not allowing the perspectives of others–not including his mother, whose essay on her visit to Haiti is appended. Though published in 1991, the book is far from obsolete (with the exception of an out-of-date chapter on AIDS); the misery that so many Haitians endure has not improved. In a new author's note, Bentivegna observes that more doctors will not solve Haiti's problems, but his political prescription betrays a naïve hope that the US government's agenda toward Haiti would ever be as sincere as his own.
An effective call to action, though providing no cures. (4-page photo insert)