In Memory of Ti Jean
Jean Gabriel Fils (known by all as ‘Ti Jean’) was born on Haiti’s Central Plateau, where two members of the Haiti Innovation Board of Directors served as Peace Corps Volunteers. For many years, he worked with, and made strong contributions to Partners in Health, an internationally respected NGO based in Cange. He was thirty-five and leaves behind a wife and eleven children.
It would be wrong for me to say that I knew Ti Jean very well. Still our paths crossed and I knew him enough to recognize that he was hard working, ambitious, and had a fiery intelligence that was matched only by a mischievous sense of humor.
Sometimes, an individual can provide a prism through which to understand a country’s history. Take Ti Jean – his family was forced to flee their home when a hydroelectric dam, financed by the World Bank, flooded his and many other families out of their homes and off the land that had belonged to them and their ancestors before them. They, like all the other families living in the Peligre Valley, received little notice and certainly no compensation. In the name of “progress”, they had been internally displaced (one could even say sacrificed) by the international community, forced to seek land so poor that none had claimed it.
Ti Jean used to say poverty is a disease. And without a doubt, this new squatter community was prone to hunger, to sickness, and to exploitation. For this reason, Partners in Health, in conjunction with a mission established by Father Lafantont, began providing health, education, and vocational services to this community. Ti Jean was there at the beginning when the operation was small, and he was there when it became a model that other countries seek to replicate. His roles changed throughout time, but he always had a role.
In Ti Jean, we have an individual who was wronged by the international community…and no Haitian has been untouched by injustices heaped onto Haiti in the name of progress and democracy. We have an individual who wanted change, and worked every day to make it happen.
Haiti is full of everyday heroes who struggle, intellectually and physically, to build a new Haiti. You won’t see them in the mass media. Tourists won’t find them. Development consultants won’t meet many of them. But when you read about unrest and turmoil in Haiti, remember people like Ti Jean who fight for the dignity and stability their country deserves. It will be a struggle, there will be disappointments, but remembering people like Ti Jean inspires all of us, and makes, as Haitians say, the load less heavy.
We invite you to visit the Partners in Health website at www.pih.org to read more about Ti Jean’s life. There you can learn how to make a donation that will go toward supporting his wife and children. Any additional money will go toward building homes for the sick, which is something he had a passion for.
Rest in Peace, Ti Jean.
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