Paul Farmer had a very unusual upbringing in Florida, Alabama, and Massachusetts. What specific element from his childhood and family life prepared him for his current life?

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Dr. Paul Farmer is a medical anthropologist and co-founder of Partners in Health, a non-profit medical organization which provides healthcare in developing countries. Partners in Health started its work as a community-based health project in Haiti, a country which became important to Farmer when he was a student and encountered Haitian migrant workers harvesting tobacco in North Carolina.

Farmer grew up in circumstances which most Americans would regard as extreme poverty. In Florida, the Farmer family, consisting of two parents and eight children, lived in an old school bus, in which they migrated between trailer parks, then in a houseboat moored in a bayou. Both bus and boat were without running water: the family bathed in creeks and rivers and collected drinking water from pumps in jugs. Although Farmer was later to have a distinguished medical career at Duke and Harvard, this background gave him empathy with the Haitian migrants he met. He spent a long time listening to their stories and learning about their culture. This led him to realize that his own life had been easy compared with the poverty they had endured in America but that even this was better than the life they had left behind in Haiti. Partners in Health began in Haiti in 1987 when Farmer was 28, and it has been his life's work ever since.

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