It wrenched my heart to meet Haitian children as young as 6 separated from their families and stuck in dreadful domestic servitude. As they described their daily lives of hardship and abuse I wanted to rescue them, to take them someplace safe where they’d be treated with love and dignity. But that would have made me the outlaw.
I also wanted to punish their abusers, the people they’re indentured to. I was enraged that any adult—especially those with kids of their own—could treat an innocent child so terribly.
I had mixed emotions about their parents, though. I’d always heard destitute parents sent their children to serve in more affluent households so their kids would be better off. They assumed their children would get an education and plenty of food—basics they couldn’t provide. But didn’t they know their kids might be treated like dogs? Denied education and even food? Why risk it? Could things really be that bad?
Then I met Misselaine. The company she’d worked at for 15 years went under. She faced no income, 80 percent unemployment, and seven children she couldn’t feed. Her husband had abandoned them years ago. Desperate times called for desperate measures. She sent her two little girls, ages 7 and 9, far away to “stay with” other families as restaveks.
Misselaine says, “It was the absolute worst day of my life—a catastrophe! No mother should have to send her child to live in the house of someone else. I will do anything for my children. I’ll gather rocks in the river; I’ll sweep trash in the streets; I’ll wash the clothes of anyone. I’ll make any sacrifice. There is no greater sacrifice I could make than to send them away.”
To combat Haiti’s poverty is to combat Haiti’s restavek problem. When parents can feed and educate their children, they don’t have to hope someone else will. With that end in mind Cross supports 39 free literacy centers. They teach literacy skills to restaveks, as well as to poor children who are at risk of becoming restaveks. Students also get a hearty meal, often their only meal of the day.
Nola Boea, Sr. Staff Writer