By Frantso Sagesse, Child advocate

Joseph is a little boy who lives in a tent with his aunt, grand-mother, two brothers and one sister. He has never known his parents. One day, his aunt became their guardian, accepting the responsibility to look after them. In reality, he became a domestic slave, perfoming menials taks for no pay and receiving very little care. The day he moved in her home he became a restavek.

This is a common situation in Haiti, where restavek is a form of modern-day child slavery affecting one in every 15 children. Typically born into poor rural families, children in restavek are often given to relatives or strangers in the hope of a better life. In most cases they are merely tolerated, neglected and oftentimes abused.

Joseph sleeps on the floor without sheets with his two brothers and his sister because the tent has limited space. Sometimes his body hurts. His head is itchy and red. When I first met him, food was scarce and his belly was swollen. Sometimes his neighbor would give him five gourds to buy bread, and he would be very happy.

Soon to be 9 years old, Joseph had never been to school.

The family could not afford tuition and school supplies. But most importantly, his aunt would not let him go as he had chores to perform in the house: fetching water, cleaning the yard, making beds, and going to the market for her and the neighbor. This meant working very long hours, leaving no time to attend school.

School: A place to thrive

Joseph joined the Restavek Freedom (RF) child advocacy program two years ago. RF pays for his tuition and all school supplies and I meet with him regularly to check his progress and how his situation evolves, making sure he can successfully advance in the program.

He was thrilled to start school and said it was like living a dream. The first year was hard. He loved mathematics. But he was very shy and had no one to help him with his lesson and homework. He could not read or write. Furthermore, his aunt was still very reluctant to let him go and learn. With so little support he was failing.

This past year, I went twice to his home to meet with his aunt and convince her of the importance of letting Joseph go to school and have a brighter future. I also stressed how beneficial it would be if she could help him with his lessons. I also visited his teacher to explain the situation and make sure Joseph receive some special attention.

Today Joseph is in second grade and enjoys school tremendously. He is a very punctual student and never misses a day. His progress is clearly visible: he can count and his average grades are great. At home, he has less chores to perform and has developed a plan to schedule and fulfill the chores efficiently.

In such a short period of time, I have witnessed Joseph grow up. His self-esteem has increased immensely and he is now a very expressive child with many friends in school. His dream is to become a pastor so that he can preach to a large audience: “don’t mistreat the kids”.

I feel very honored by his success and the outgoing person he has become.

Would you like to learn more about the Restavek Freedom Child Advocacy program? Visit our website at restavekfreedom.org