Her name is Jesula, which in Creole means "Jesus is here." She may be 11 years old, or 7 years old, depending on who you believe. She's in preschool at Jubilee School. She loves to dance and eat hot sauce on her rice.
She has Down Syndrome.
His name is Joniel Fils-Aimé, which means "Beloved Son". He is an English teacher at local schools and a teaching assistant for me in the community health classes. He's a husband and a father. He recently had a bad case of typhoid.
He'd never heard of Down Syndrome.
Jesula wandered into my classroom one day, as she often does. On that day, I was doing a practical demonstration for my students; I was wearing sterile gloves and holding a catheter dipped in lubricant. I summoned my TA, "Joniel, can you get her please?"
He called her over to where he sat on a short chair. I wondered what would happen next. My TAs are Haitian; they have been taught their whole lives that handicapped people don't have value. But they have also spent months watching me welcome Jesula the same way I welcome any other kid. So I watched. Joniel and Jesula's faces were at the same height as he talked to her very quietly. I saw her nod, shake her head. And then it happened. He opened his arms and the little girl threw her stumpy arms around his neck and leaned onto his chest.
It's rare to see a Haitian man be physically affectionate with his own children, never mind a handicapped child that he's not related to. But that's what unconditional love does. Jesula doesn't care if you're white or black; she doesn't care if you're rich or poor, ugly or handsome, educated or illiterate. If we will just give her the chance, all she wants is to love and be loved back. Joniel welcomed her and in return, he received the greatest gift.
I would have cried if it hadn't been for the lubricant dripping down my arms.