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Embrace The Idea of ‘Accompaniment,’ Paul Farmer Tells Kennedy School Grads

While we’re highlighting inspirational commencement speakers, here’s Paul Farmer, the renowned doctor and co-founder of the humanitarian group Partners In Health, telling graduates of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government to embrace the notion of “accompaniment” in their future endeavors, The Harvard Crimson reports.

Farmer speaks of the term broadly in his address, but its origins are close to his heart: decades ago, in Haiti, he helped mobilize a cadre of community health workers, or “accompagnateurs” to help treat and care for the sick and dying in their own neighborhoods and towns. This model of using local health workers as a central component of any medical support team has been replicated in communities around the world: in Rwanda and Peru, for instance, and more recently in the poorest neighborhoods around Boston. In Haiti alone, Partners In Health trains and employs over 2,000 Haitians as accompagnateurs, and these health workers were critical during last year’s devastating earthquake and subsequent cholera outbreak.

“All that I have to offer you today turns about the notion of accompaniment,” [Farmer] said to the audience. “It is an elastic term, but here it means sticking to a task until it is deemed completed by the person that you are accompanying.”

Farmer acknowledged that the concept could initially appear unrelated to government, but said that it has far-reaching implications. He asked graduates to consider the potential increase in the effectiveness of humanitarian aid that is executed according to the notion of accompaniment.

“Many of you here will be soon leading foreign contractors and NGOs—if you are not already—and you will need to help these organizations find a way to accompany our developing partners and intended beneficiaries away from deprivation and suffering,” he said.

“Just because we can’t tangibly measure the value of accompaniment, doesn’t mean that we can’t use it in the service of the common good,” Farmer added.