FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Dr. Schweitzer’s Lost Message

I first learned of Dr. Albert Schweitzer’s work when I was a medical student in the 1960s. During those years, the story of Dr. Schweitzer’s efforts to improve the health of Africans in his hospital in Lambaréné ignited my colleagues’ and my imagination. It was thus with a sense of privilege that I visited his hospital in Lambaréné, Gabon, where his excellent work continues today unabated. Sadly, the same cannot be said about the continuation of his message of peace.

Schweitzer’s own life, before working in Africa, had been extraordinary, that of a man blessed by many talents. Born in Alsace in 1875, he became a remarkable organist and musicologist quite young, and particularly excelled in performing the works of Johann Sebastian Bach.

At Strasbourg University he pursued courses in philosophy and medicine, while continuing his musical training. When he was 22, he won a scholarship that allowed him to study philosophy at the Sorbonne and to continue studying the organ. At the age of 24, he received his doctorate in philosophy and the following year his doctorate in theology. When he was 26, he was elected head of the Theological Seminary of St. Thomas in Strasbourg.

Schweitzer’s academic achievements didn’t prevent him from leading an active social and musical life. His recitals and concerts took him to several European countries where his performances were attended by a large, admiring public.

Hidden behind his successful career, however, were the yearnings of a young man eager to find a more profound meaning to his life. When he turned 21 he made a crucial decision: he would pursue his own personal interests until he reached 30. After that, he would devote his efforts to serve his fellow men, to pay what he considered his “debt to humanity.” To that end, and taking time from his musical studies, he pursued a medical career. Quite by chance, he read a report of the Paris Mission Society about the desperate medical needs of the natives of Africa’s Upper Congo and decided to work in Africa.

His decision to reject certain fame and fortune to go to Africa dismayed his family and friends. One of them, the dean of the medical school, advised him to see a psychiatrist. Undaunted, he built a small hospital in Lambaréné, then French Equatorial Africa, in what had been a chicken coop, and worked there until his death in 1965.

Early on his career he became a staunch peace activist. His activities in favor of world peace gained him the admiration of figures like Albert Einstein and Presidents Kennedy and Eisenhower. One day, looking at a herd of hippos in the Ogowe River, he developed his idea of “reverence for life.” According to it, “The greatest evil is to destroy life, to injure life, to repress life which is capable of development.” In 1952 he was awarded the Nobel Peace prize. The money from the award went to fund the creation of a village for lepers close to his hospital called “Village of Light,” for the hope it still brings to those affected by the disease. He felt that through his medical work he was, in a small scale, compensating the black people in Africa for all the damage the white man had caused them.

The Schweitzer hospital is now a modern facility in a new location. In addition to clinical and surgical wards it also conducts malaria research and houses a museum which includes the bedrooms of Dr. Schweitzer and his wife.

The hospital, considered one of the best in Gabon, serves not only people from that country, but also people from neighboring countries. One original aspect of the hospital is that members of the patients’ families are allowed to live with the sick person while he/she is being treated, eliminating the sense of alienation many patients feel in strange hospital surroundings.

Paradoxically, although his medical work continues after his death, his message of peace has been lost in today’s world, ravaged by perverse wars and unnecessary loss of life. Standing in his room and feeling the force of his personality, I thought that later generations have betrayed his legacy of peace.

Looking at the old piano in his room, the only luxury he allowed himself during his years in Africa, I wondered where are today the Gandhis, the Luther Kings or the Schweitzers of our world.

More articles by:

Dr. Cesar Chelala is a co-winner of the 1979 Overseas Press Club of America award for the article “Missing or Disappeared in Argentina: The Desperate Search for Thousands of Abducted Victims.”

November 13, 2018
Patrick Cockburn
The Midterm Results are Challenging Racism in America in Unexpected Ways
Victor Grossman
Germany on a Political Seesaw
Cillian Doyle
Fictitious Assets, Hidden Losses and the Collapse of MDM Bank
Lauren Smith
Amnesia and Impunity Reign: Wall Street Celebrates Halliburton’s 100th Anniversary
Joe Emersberger
Moreno’s Neoliberal Restoration Proceeds in Ecuador
Carol Dansereau
Climate and the Infernal Blue Wave: Straight Talk About Saving Humanity
Dave Lindorff
Hey Right Wingers! Signatures Change over Time
Dan Corjescu
Poetry and Barbarism: Adorno’s Challenge
Patrick Bond
Mining Conflicts Multiply, as Critics of ‘Extractivism’ Gather in Johannesburg
Ed Meek
The Kavanaugh Hearings: Text and Subtext
Binoy Kampmark
Concepts of Nonsense: Australian Soft Power
November 12, 2018
Kerron Ó Luain
Poppy Fascism and the English Education System
Conn Hallinan
Nuclear Treaties: Unwrapping Armageddon
Robert Hunziker
Tropical Trump Declares War on Amazonia
John W. Whitehead
Badge of Shame: the Government’s War on Military Veterans
Will Griffin
Military “Service” Serves the Ruling Class
John Eskow
Harold Pinter’s America: Hard Truths and Easy Targets
Rob Okun
Activists Looking Beyond Midterm Elections
Binoy Kampmark
Mid-Term Divisions: The Trump Take
Dean Baker
Short-Term Health Insurance Plans Destroy Insurance Pools
George Wuerthner
Saving the Buffalohorn/Porcupine: the Lamar Valley of the Gallatin Range
Patrick Howlett-Martin
A Note on the Paris Peace Forum
Joseph G. Ramsey
Does America Have a “Gun Problem”…Or a White Supremacy Capitalist Empire Problem?
Weekend Edition
November 09, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Louis Proyect
Why Democrats Are So Okay With Losing
Andrew Levine
What Now?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Chuck and Nancy’s House of Cards
Brian Cloughley
The Malevolent Hypocrisy of Selective Sanctions
Marc Levy
Welcome, Class of ‘70
David Archuleta Jr.
Facebook Allows Governments to Decide What to Censor
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The Zika Scare: a Political and Commercial Maneuver of the Chemical Poisons Industry
Nick Pemberton
When It Comes To Stone Throwing, Democrats Live In A Glass House
Ron Jacobs
Impeach!
Lawrence Davidson
A Tale of Two Massacres
José Tirado
A World Off Balance
Jonah Raskin
Something Has Gone Very Wrong: An Interview With Ecuadoran Author Gabriela Alemán
J.P. Linstroth
Myths on Race and Invasion of the ‘Caravan Horde’
Dean Baker
Good News, the Stock Market is Plunging: Thoughts on Wealth
David Rosen
It’s Time to Decriminalize Sex Work
Dan Glazebrook
US Calls for a Yemen Ceasefire is a Cynical Piece of Political Theatre
Jérôme Duval
Forced Marriage Between Argentina and the IMF Turns into a Fiasco
Jill Richardson
Getting Past Gingrich
Dave Lindorff
Not a Blue Wave, But Perhaps a Foreshock
Martha Rosenberg
Dangerous, Expensive Drugs Aggressively Pushed? You Have These Medical Conflicts of Interest to Thank
Will Solomon
Not Much of a Wave
Nicolas J S Davies
Why Yemeni War Deaths are Five Times Higher Than You’ve Been Led to Believe
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail