PORT-AU-PRINCE - Living in a tent after an earthquake left a million Haitians in the streets. One woman named Orena Joseph says she cannot support her three daughters and is ready to give them away to foreigners if she can't find a good home for them. Despite her desperation, Orena said she would never turn 11-year-old Betie and 6-year-old Gina over to a Haitian family, as tens of thousands of other poor parents have done. “Not a Haitian family. Haitians will make them suffer,” Orena 39, said. “They ... force the child to work like an animal. They don’t really take care of them.”
Deeply ingrained in the culture of the impoverished former slave colony, the practice of poor families giving away children to wealthier acquaintances or relatives is known in the native Creole as “restavek,” from the French words rester avec, or “to stay with.” Critics call it slavery. The children, they said, are taken in as servants, forced to work without pay, isolated from other children in the household and seldom sent to school. “A restavek is a child placed in domestic slavery,” said Stephanie Jean, a former restavèk who now runs a foundation to improve the lives of restavèk children (www.restavekfreedom.org).
After the January 12 earthquake, the Haitian government warned that child traffickers could take advantage of the ensuing chaos to prey on vulnerable children. The well-publicized drama surrounding 10 U.S. missionaries caught trying to spirit 33 children over the border seemed to reinforce the threat. But critics say tens of thousands of Haitian children have been freely given by their own parents to a life of slavery within Haiti.
A 2002 study for UNICEF and other organizations by Norway’s Fafo Institute for Applied Social Science said there were 173,000 restavek children, more than 8 percent of the population between 5 and 17. Stephanie believes there are more than 300,000. “When I was a child, the family basically owned me,” said Stephanie, whose mother died young. She was given away to a wealthy family when she was four. “I grew up sleeping under the kitchen table. I got up early, swept the yard, washed the car, fetched water, emptied the chamber pot. I went to the market, bathed the children, walked the children to school and I couldn’t come to school,” she said. “I never ate with the family. I was abused physically. I was abused emotionally with bad words.” The restavek tradition may date to the time when Haiti was a French slave colony, when the children of slaves worked as domestics in the home of the master. Stephanie said a relic of that era, a twisted cowhide whip known in Creole as a rigwaz, is still used to beat restavèks.
“It’s the same whip that the French used during colonial times to beat slaves,” she said. “You can buy them in the markets (in Port-au-Prince) today.” The restavek tradition lives on in part because it is accepted, or at least tolerated, in Haitian culture. Some families school and feed their restavèk children, and some argue the children would die if they remained with their poor parents. A family that has taken in a restavèk child, Stephanie said, will never admit to mistreating that child, and the government is reluctant to interfere in domestic affairs.
A Mentoring Center is a most for Haiti. A mentor can talk to these children about problems that come up and help set future career goals. Or a mentor might just spend time having fun together. Having a mentor can raise a child’s self-esteem and lead to a better performance and how they see themselves. By raising the way they view themselves they can believe that they can be successful in the future. It can also make this child less likely to drink alcoholic beverages or use illegal drugs because they have found a purpose for their life. Having a Mentoring Program among this people will help them discover their true power. The mission of Arise is deeply rooted in a set core values, principles and goals. These core values are embraced by our mentors through a pedagogical key of mentoring which is the foundation of Arise’s unique purpose, goal, and vision. https://www.ariseprojects.org