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.
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.
This segment aired on January 18, 2018.