By: Vicky Liu ‘20
As the Distinguished Visiting Justice Leader of 2019, Dr. Steven Larson visited Friends’ Central School on Oct. 29th. Dr. Larson’s was the last guest lecturer at FCS of the past decade, concluding these past ten years on a high note. He greatly inspired the audience through his introduction of Puentes de Salud (Bridges of Health, or “Puentes” for short) which he is the co-founder and Executive Director of. The clinic Puentes is a non-profit organization and volunteer-run clinic that provides free medical care to undocumented immigrants in South Philadelphia. In addition, with Dr. Larson as its subject, the HBO documentary Clínica de Migrantes was displayed during his visit. The film epitomizes the daily struggle of Latinx immigrants to find affordable healthcare and how Puentes provides them with high-quality health care, innovative educational programs, and community building.
Liam Giszter ‘21, a current member of Justice Core Team, reflects on the documentary: “The film is very powerful. It did a good job capturing the sense of despair. The actual event that happened were very tragic.” The documentary reveals deeply moving stories of a vulnerable population: people who are unfamiliar with the language (English), tagged negatively by the political atmosphere, unable to get health insurance, and terrified to seek help. Mr. Dwight Dunston ‘06, Coordinator of Equity and Justice Education, comments that, “Immigration is a highly charged national conversation. [Dr. Larson] lifts it from the political and humanistic sides. He is, too, committed to honoring the humanity of every single person who comes into his contact with.” Dwight believes “it was incredible to meet someone who let his life speak like that” and who has a big heart.
In 2003, hoping to provide to the needs of the undocumented Latinx population, Dr. Larson initiated Puentes with his colleagues Dr. Jack Ludmir and Matthew O'Brien. Knowing Dr. Larson personally, Mr. John Gruber, Upper School Science Teacher, regards him as a representation of generosity, open-heartedness, and compassion in practice: “What really moved me was that [Dr. Larson] used his position as a physician in Penn Medicine, his knowledge, and his access, in the service of people who are forgotten, suffering in illness diseases and far from home. He does it without any interest in being recognized. He just does it because it’s needed to be done and he can do it.” Dr. Larson, besides being an ER physician, is an Associate Professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. Because of him and his program, Penn rents a large abandoned space to Puentes for 1 dollar per year.
Dr. Larson’s work not only shows a limitless potential of humanity but also resonates with the Quaker testimony of community. Mr. Michael Crauderueff, Upper School Spanish and Quakerism Teacher, appreciates that Puentes “doesn’t just bring the medical assistance but love” to the immigrants and considers that “they, like all of us, are in need of love.” He continues, “We are so often focused on finding solutions, or right answers, too quickly. The work [people in Puentes] are doing takes years, not only to learn how to be a good doctor, but it takes years to understand deeply the culture of the people they’re helping [and] to gain their trust so that they can be treated in many different ways, medically as well as psychologically, [which] go hand in hand.” Puentes allows unconditional love, respect and trust to commute between volunteer physicians and undocumented immigrant patients.
Dr. Larson views immigrants as “alive” and as “part of the community” first while providing healthcare, which is precious as millions of undocumented immigrants remain vunerable and in desperate need of healthcare in the United States. He describes promoting the health of the Latinx immigrants as “driving by a car accident. You’re either gonna stop and help or you’re not.”