Support the news

Ophelia Dahl: We Face Down Disasters, Man Made And Natural, By Standing Together03:00
Download

Play
The author, pictured in the 1980s, gives a dose of medication to an unidentified Haitian girl. (Courtesy of Partners in Health)MoreCloseclosemore
The author, pictured in the 1980s, gives a dose of medication to an unidentified Haitian girl. (Courtesy of Partners in Health)

Like what you read here? Sign up for our twice-weekly newsletter.


Editor's Note: In the original on-air version of this commentary, Ophelia Dahl's title was misstated. She is the co-founder and chair of the board of Partners In Health. We regret the error.


On the eve of his death, Dr. Martin Luther King said, “only when it is dark enough can you see the stars.” I think of this often — and especially lately, with so much darkness in our politics.

A month after the 2010 earthquake leveled Haiti’s capital city, I was visiting my mother in Los Angeles. She had been diagnosed with cancer, and was planning for the end of her life. Sitting on her hospital bed, on the 13th floor, I saw her tray begin to tremble and I felt the structure judder. “It’s moving, everything is moving!” I exclaimed. It was un-earthly in every way to plant your feet on the ground and feel a once reliable surface convulse. It’s a feeling that’s horribly familiar these days.

When my mother was felled by a stroke — at 39 — my father, together with a stream of neighbors and relatives, worked with her all day, every day for a year, until her mind and her body returned.

Ophelia Dahl in-studio at WBUR on January 16, 2018. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Ophelia Dahl in-studio at WBUR on January 16, 2018. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

In Haiti, I learned that the sort of commitment that sustained my mother is called accompaniment. It’s the practice of walking shoulder to shoulder through whatever challenges arise. At Partners In Health, this often means walking with a patient. But sometimes one accompanies — and is accompanied by — colleagues, a community, a whole government.

As our Haitian colleagues have demonstrated — with the successful treatment of HIV, tuberculosis and cancer — accompaniment is the key to addressing poverty and ill health. And after the 2010 earthquake, we saw that accompaniment is the key to addressing disasters, too. Thousands of hands came together to tend to wounded Haitians, and their wounded country. Volunteers left Haiti with far more than they offered the earthquake's victims. The perseverance and dignity of Haiti’s people, in the face of unceasing racism, injustice and violence, has strengthened many leaders in the U.S.’s own battles for justice and equity.

As we’re called again to fight for the humanity of all people, we ought to remember Haiti’s generous example, and the magnificent response we were able to muster, eight years ago, to face down a catastrophe together.

Patients wait outside Klinik Extern at University Hospital in Mirebalais, Haiti. (Cecille Joan Avila/ Partners In Health)
Patients wait outside Klinik Extern at University Hospital in Mirebalais, Haiti. (Cecille Joan Avila/ Partners In Health)

 

Follow Cognoscenti on Facebook and Twitter, and sign up for our twice-weekly newsletter.

This segment aired on January 18, 2018.

Related:

Ophelia Dahl Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Ophelia Dahl is a co-founder and chairman of the board of Partners In Health, a global health organization based in Boston. She also manages the literary estate of her late father, the writer Roald Dahl.

More…

+Join the discussion
TwitterfacebookEmail

Support the news