By Adeline Bienaime, Transitional Home Director
Restavek is a form of modern-day slavery that persists in Haiti. Born into poor rural families, children in restavek are given to relatives in the hope of a better future. In their new homes, they become domestic slaves, doing all the household labor from dawn to dusk. The majority of them are girls who, in most cases, are neglected and sometimes abused. In the worst cases of abuse, Restavek Freedom removes them from their situation and places them in a Transitional Home.
A Transitional Home provides a loving, family atmosphere where the girls can heal until they are able to transition into a healthy independent living situation. Once in the home, they are released from their endless tasks. Instead, adults are put in charge of running the household, allowing former children in restavek to simply enjoy being children.
Working in the transitional home: caring for healing girls
We have a wonderful team caring for these girls, including Eline who is a cook and Milourdes who is a house cleaner. They both started working in the Transitional Home in 2011. As former children in restavek who benefited from Restavek Freedom’s program, they understand the importance of a safe environment to gain confidence and nourish one’s personality. They do their utmost to ensure that the Transitional Home is this empowering place.
Eline wakes up at 4:30 to prepare breakfast for the girls before they go to school. After the girls have left, she prepares the dinner so that it is ready when they return from school. In the evening, she cleans the kitchen, the stove and everything she has used for cooking. On Sunday morning, Eline goes to church and when she comes back she prepares a great dinner with the girls.
Milourdes comes on Tuesday in the morning. Her duties include cleaning the house and preparing the dinner, and she accomplishes them with great energy. But she brings much more than that. Because she knows how to speak to the girls, she is able to relate extremely well with them. It is amazing to see how she listens to them and counsels them. All the girls absolutely love talking with her.
Eline and Milourdes are integral parts of the household. They participate in everything we do in the house and they enjoy spending quality time with the girls, showing them Haitian games and sometimes accompanying them to church. They are thrilled to join us when there is an activity, like going to the restaurant, to the beach, to the museum or to the pool. And on Saturday and Sunday, the girls show their gratitude and help them with the cooking.
In the Transitional Home we are a family. We treat each other with respect, with mutual understanding and love. I am really happy to have them.
Avoiding the Restavek system by working in the transitional home
Eline and Milourdes had never had a job before coming to work in the transitional home.
Eline has 3 children, 1 girl and 2 boys. They were living with their nieces and cousins because they didn’t have their own home since the earthquake in 2010. Milourdes has 4 children, 2 boys and 2 girls. She had to send her daughters to live with her sister because she could not take care of them.
Today, thanks to Restavek Freedom, who helped them find housing, these women have their own place to live. They are able to take care of their kids, send them to school, and they get two days off each week to spend time with their kids. Working in the Transitional Home has changed their lives. Eline feels free now.
The Transitional Home not only provides for the girls and helps them construct a future, it also helps other people to build their lives and that of their children.
Restavek Freedom has opened two transitional homes where up to 24 girls can receive care. They provide shelter, education, food and trauma counseling. But most importantly children are able to heal in a loving, family atmosphere and start having a future.