A Letter from IJDH Executive Director Brian Concannon
Like many people in these challenging times, I encounter reasons for discouragement every day.
But then I have conversations like a recent one with my colleague Mario Joseph, who leads our partner organization, the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI) in Haiti. Mario has ample cause for discouragement: he has invested 30 years of his life fighting for justice and democracy in a country that has become persistently more lawless and less democratic, with the support of world powers. For 20 years Mario has faced death threats and had clients and collaborators imprisoned and killed. Gang-controlled areas are closing in on the BAI office from the north and the south—less than a mile either way.
I had called Mario because I was worried about him, and hoped I could offer encouragement at a challenging time. But I ended up being the one receiving encouragement, when I asked Mario what kept him going, and he started his response with “well there are others with less…..”
Among Mario’s others with less are Dina Cajuste, a trainee lawyer at the BAI. Dina lost her mother at age four, and was raised by her grandmother in modest conditions. Dina made it through law school with great sacrifice and talent. But for five years after graduation, she was unable to start a legal career because she could not obtain the support needed to finish her memoire (thesis), which is the largest obstacle to becoming a lawyer in Haiti. But then Dina met Mario at a training he delivered at a human rights organization. With the BAI’s support and her diligence, Dina completed her memoire this summer in less than a year, an astoundingly rapid pace.
Dina and three other aspiring women lawyers at the BAI discussed their dreams for their legal careers and a more just and equitable Haiti in a webinar on August 17, a Thursday. Gang violence in Dina’s Carrefour-Feuilles neighborhood had forced Dina to work from home most of that week, so on Wednesday afternoon a BAI driver picked her up during a lull so she could sleep in a safe place where she could make it to the webinar safely the following day. 12 days later, on August 29, a gang took over Dina’s neighborhood as part of a large assault on Carrefour-Feuilles. Dina had to flee her home with just what she could carry. All her other possessions are lost, and she has permanently relocated to a neighborhood in Delmas where there is “a constant threat of danger.”
But Dina keeps working to advance justice in Haiti. She too has her others with less: little girls throughout Haiti spending their days on housework while their brothers pursue opportunities. A middle-aged rape survivor visiting the BAI—like Dina, from Carrefour-Feuilles—overwhelmed with the stigma of the assault. Dina will be fighting for her people’s rights for decades, and, like Mario, training another generation to continue her work.
Mario, Dina and the people they serve have less security, mobility, access to food, healthcare and other resources than I do. But they have much more of one thing than many of us: confidence in a better future for Haiti. I was going to type “hope for Haiti’s future,” but “confidence” more accurately reflects the resolve in their voice when they assure me that the Haitian people will prevail in restoring democracy, as they did in their “hopeless” battle against Napoleon and the restorations of democracy in 1994 and 2006. Or the partial but historic victories of the Raboteau trial, the prosecution of Jean Claude Duvalier and the UN cholera case.
In such challenging times, it is a privilege for those of us who are others with less hope—like me—to receive the gift of hope—even confidence—from inspiring people like Dina and Mario. At IJDH, we hope that our connecting you with our inspiring Haitian colleagues helps you to access this same confidence in a more just Haiti and a more peaceful world.
At IJDH we would like to thank everyone who has contributed to our end-of-year campaign that keeps Mario, Dina and their colleagues winning justice for those with less justice, and sending hope to those of us with less hope.
We would also like to invite anyone who has not joined us yet to consider a generous donation this year. In return for their gift of hope, we will earmark all donations during the last week of December for the BAI’s work.
IJDH Executive Director
P.S.: After drafting this I called Mario, and asked for his approval. He said “its not wrong, but you should talk about the others….”