Slideshow & highlights from ZL mentor’s memorial service

Posted on 07/01/10

Slideshow by Kanupriya Tewari

Ali Lutz, PIH’s Haiti Program Coordinator, attended the memorial service held for Mamito in Cange on June 6. The following are highlights from that ceremony.

This past Tuesday, we celebrated the life of Madame Yolande Lafontant—our beloved “Mamito”—at the Eglise Bon Sauveur in Cange. The church was full of people from around the world, all of whom came to pay respects to Mamito’s legacy and to the Lafontant family. Some flew in from other continents and drove to Cange in motorcades, while others came several hours on foot from surrounding villages. President Préval and the first lady of Haiti were there, as were elderly women from Bas Cange—members of Mamito’s latest ministry to provide food and social assistance to elderly peasant farmers without family to care for them.

All had been touched by the tremendous force of Mamito’s love and work.

Several priests from the Episcopal Church of Haiti presided over the service. The banner above the chancel read, “Adieu, Manmito. Tes oeuvres sont immortelles. Cange pap janm bliye ou” – Adieu, Mamito. Your works will go on forever. Your memory will never be forgotten in Cange.

A number of people delivered moving eulogies. The pre-school class from the Bon Sauveur School in Cange— which Mamito founded well over twenty years ago—made beautiful paper lilies to lay on the altar. A representative of the primary and secondary classes at Bon Sauveur spoke about the faith Mamito had in God and her equally powerful belief in the potential of each student at Bon Sauveur, regardless of his or her family’s socioeconomic situation. This young student wished Mamito Godspeed as she returned to the heart of Gods—“whom you loved above all else, and who loved you always.”

Ophelia Dahl, PIH co-founder, spoke about Mamito’s gift for hospitality—her drive to make sure every detail was perfect for her guests. Every time Ophelia returned home to Cange, Mamito would be waiting for her at the top of the stairs leading to the Lafontant’s home at the heart of Cange.

“Mamito made me feel,” Ophelia said, “as if she were waiting just for me. And I am sure she made everyone feel that way.” Ophelia used the image of the Cange water source to describe Mamito—constantly flowing strong, though not always visible, whose determination was able to defy gravity and scale steep grades of inequality to bring life-giving support to people in need. The results of a life of such tireless service were evident in the transformative change embodied in Cange—once a squatter settlement of water refugees whose land was flooded by the Peligre dam, and now a thriving campus dedicated to health, education, and social justice.

Didi Bertrand Farmer wrote and shared a poem about the creative force of Mamito’s love. Dr. Maxi Raymonville, who spoke on behalf of Zanmi Lasante’s Executive Committee, said that Mamito was militant in her drive to right the injustices in the world, especially the oppression of the poor.

Ferle Jean “Bobby” Sauvener, who is currently studying medicine in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, was part of one of the early pre-school classes in Cange. He called up his classmates from Cange—a dozen students who are now studying medicine and nursing—and said that they are Mamito’s legacy: their ability to achieve an education at Bon Sauveur was due to Mamito’s determination and care.

Renard Jacob spoke about Mamito and Père Lafontant’s ability to create a home for all people. When Renard was pursuing his studies in Port-au-Prince, he stayed at the Lafontant’s home and Mamito cared for him as though he were one of her own children, saying to him that he would always have a home there.

Gillaine Warne spoke on behalf of the community in South Carolina —the doctors, teachers, bishops, priests, engineers, students, and artists—whom the Lafontant’s have welcomed, embraced, and mentored as the community in South Carolina learned to stand in love and in solidarity with the people of Cange.

Gillaine shared a lighthearted memory from Dr. Harry Morse who said that while Mamito was always willing to serve, Harry had learned early on that Mamito was not the best choice for a medical translator: she had the tendency to tell the patients what to say to the doctor, diagnose the problem herself, and tell the visiting physician what the treatment should be.

Dr. Paul Farmer spoke about Mamito’s hospitality and pointed out that her influence had transformed not only Cange, but all of the places around the world where Partners In Health works: Peru, Boston, Russia, Mexico, Guatemala, Malawi, Lesotho, Rwanda, Burundi, and Kazakhstan.

The service concluded with the remembrances from Mamito’s grandson, Ludji Chipps, who praised his grandmother’s energy, elegance, and compassion.

We in the Partners In Health family are all the children and grandchildren of our dear Mamito, and we will miss her dearly, even as her spirit of determination and compassion continues to guide our work in every place.