By Matt Viser, Globe Staff, October 28, 2007, Boston Globe
Allison Quady joins homeless people to make home-cooked meals in
Chinatown using vegetables from the garden they nurtured together.
Richard Downey cuts hair for the homeless in Jamaica Plain who are
too ill to stay in a shelter. The Boston-area residents are among a
growing network of Albert Schweitzer fellows, who assembled for the
first time yesterday for a one-day conference to reaffirm their
dedication to lives of service modeled after the physician who
received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1953.
The Boston-based US Schweitzer Fellows Program is for graduate
students throughout the world who commit themselves to a yearlong
program to assist populations whose health needs are not being met.
Once completing the program, the "Fellows For Life" are supposed to
effect change in their own communities. Until yesterday, the
internationally diverse group of fellows had never gathered together
to draw upon one another.
"They learn skills, they develop a supportive network, and they
realize they're not peculiar for wanting to help the most needy,"
said US District Court Judge Mark L. Wolf, who cofounded the
fellowship program. "And they want to remain connected."
Yesterday's event, called the "First Annual Fellows for Life
Conference," was held at the Hotel Commonwealth and included talks
such as "Tools to Becoming a Leader in Your Field" and "Global
Health: Ways to Get Involved." About 150 of 1,500 fellows worldwide
came to the conference.
The fellowship, which began in 1991 in Boston with 12 fellows, has
grown to include 180 new fellows annually and has spread to eight
other locations, including Baltimore, Chicago, and San Francisco.
There are plans to add Los Angeles and New Orleans.
The program is named after the renowned professor, pastor, organist,
and physician who built a hospital in Lambarene, Gabon. Schweitzer
received the Nobel Peace Prize for his work in Gabon, and used his
$33,000 prize money to start a leper colony there.
He died in 1965 at 90, but the fellows say they keep his philosophy
alive by quoting him frequently, with mantras of "Everyone must find
his own Lambarene" and "My life is my argument."
"Albert Schweitzer believed that the idealism of youth was the
strongest, most powerful element on the planet," said Lachlan Forrow,
an associate professor at Harvard Medical School and president of the
fellowship program. "If we could remain, as adults, the way we felt
when we were 14, we could really change things."
Quady, a 27-year-old Somerville resident and graduate student at
Tufts University's Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy,
started a health program this year at St. Francis House, the largest
day shelter in New England. Quady and the residents grow vegetables
in a garden, plan weekly meals, and cook and dine together. The most
recent menu items included cabbage rolls and zucchini lasagna.
"It is starting to really create a community," she said.
Downey, 41, is a Boston resident working on a nursing degree. He cuts
hair at Barbara McInnis House, a 90-bed facility in Jamaica Plain
that provides interim care for homeless people who have been
discharged from hospitals but remain too ill to go to a shelter.
He massages their heads, washes their hair, and trims their beards,
eyebrows, and coif with care like that of the finest salons on
"I like to look at the person's face when they look in the mirror,"
he said. "They notice something in themselves again."
All of the fellows commit to working at least 200 hours during the
year, and each receives a $2,000 stipend.
"Seeing everyone here really makes my heart feel good," said Ken
Vail, 49, a Boston-based fellow in 1993 who is now interim director
of a needle exchange program in Washington, D.C., called
PreventionWorks! "It makes me want to go back and do more."