Thousands in Haiti now have hope after devastating hurricane
Restavek Freedom initiates fast response to offer relief
A month after Hurricane Matthew took a devastating toll on the nation of Haiti, the charitable organization Restavek Freedom looks back at the impact of its immediate response to the disaster, and the work that remains to be done.
The Category 4 major hurricane struck the country’s southern peninsula in early October, destroying around 200,000 homes and putting over a million people at risk. The country’s vulnerable infrastructure raised concerns of cholera spread, a lack of clean water, and broken networks of transport and communication.
Restavek Freedom has been one of the most active organizations involved with children’s security in Haiti since its inception in 2007. The organization has worked extensively out of Port-au-Prince and Port Salut, the latter being one of the hardest hit towns by Hurricane Matthew.
An established presence allowed Restavek Freedom to take immediate action after the earthquake. Its Port Salut learning center transformed into a relief work staging area, where local workers and volunteers organized the distribution of relief supplies. The organization’s familiarity with the surrounding community allowed it to take a proactive role in the delivery of materials. A major victory came in the form of access to a well of potable water that could then be delivered to surrounding communities by truck.
Restavek Freedom’s network of supporters were also a great benefit to the organization’s relief efforts. Staff reported many emails from donors, churches, and volunteer teams looking for opportunities to help. Through donations and volunteered time, the organization has been successful at delivering 120,000 pounds of food and 1,000 relief packs for families, digging two wells of clean drinking water, and creating access to temporary shelter for hundreds of local families.
While Restavek Freedom has contributed significantly to local relief efforts, its established mission is focused on advocacy for children in Haiti who have been put at risk by child slavery. The term Restavek refers to the complex issue of modern-day child slavery where children are sent to families to serve as unpaid, frequently mistreated domestic laborers.
The impact of the storm will have a direct effect on the organization’s advocacy work. Natural disasters in areas with limited infrastructure increase the risk of child trafficking, an effect that was seen in the aftermath of Haiti’s 2010 earthquake. Estimates by experts note that around 2,000 children have been separated from their parents or have evacuated from orphanages or care institutions. “Based on our experiences after the earthquake,” explains Restavek Freedom staff, “it is likely more children will be trafficked or sent into restavek. We are uniquely positioned as the largest permanent nonprofit entity in Port Salut, one of the hardest-hit communities in Haiti. We are the best situated to provide a base of operations for relief.”
Restavek Freedom now focuses on the road ahead, as efforts shift from immediate relief to recovery. The next few months will be defined by targeting the areas that are most vulnerable and present the biggest opportunities for impact. Rebuilding structures, food distribution networks, and economic stability will be another concern for years. The organization remains hopeful and committed to their assistance role. The focus for the remainder of the year will continue to be directed towards food, water, and rebuilding efforts. Restavek Freedom continues to invite those concerned to donate at restavekfreedom.org/relief.