Paul Farmer's book, The Uses of Haiti, contains a passage about human bravery that has kept me going in the darkest times. Paul recounts the experience of Yolande Jean, who fled Haiti's repressive Duvalier government but was apprehended by US forces. Locked up on Guantanamo, her treatment there was horrific. Under sweltering conditions she and others were beaten to a point where eleven tried to escape to Cuba, and two attempted suicide. Jean led a hunger strike, in which pregnant women participated. Near death, she wrote this letter to her children Hill and Jeff, and family, which appears in the book:
To my family:
Don't count on me any more, because I have lost in the struggle for life. Thus, there is nothing left of me. Take care of my children, so they have strength to continue my struggle, because it is our duty.
As for me, my obligation ends here. Hill and Jeff, you have to continue with the struggle so that you may become men of the future. I have lost hope; I am alone in my distress. I know you will understand my situation, but do not worry about me because I have made my own decision. I am alone in life and will remain so. Life is no longer worth living to me.
Hill and Jeff, you no longer have a mother. Realize that you do not have a bad mother, it is simply that circumstances have taken me to where I am at this moment. I am sending you two pictures so you can look at me for the last time. Goodbye my children. Goodbye my family. We will meet again in another world.
As she was about to die, a federal judge ordered their release.
Some months after Common Courage published Paul's book, I was invited to a ceremony where Jean Bertrand Aristide was giving a speech in Boston. Amazingly, Yolande Jean was also there with her two children. Paul had promised to introduce me to Aristide, but that did not come to pass. Later that night back in Paul's office I saw Yolande with her two children running around. Paul turned to me and apologized for not introducing me to Aristide, or "Titid" as he is known among his supporters.
"That's okay," I replied. "Meeting Aristide would have been nice. But it feels so much more important and so much more of an honor to meet Yolande, and to see her two children playing happily in the shadow of her care."
"You know," said Paul, "Titid would agree with you."
Some ask why we do this work. We ask a different question: How can we not?