By Mackenson Edma, Child Advocate
In Haiti, poverty is prevalent. For the poorest families taking care and providing for their children is an everyday fight. In this harsh situation, it is not uncommon for a child to be given to relatives or even strangers in the hope of a better future. But in their new homes, they become domestic slaves, doing all the household labor from dawn to dusk. In most cases, these children are neglected and sometimes abused. Today, it is estimated that 1 in 15 children is in restavek.
Restavek Freedom (RF) started its programs 10 years ago with the ultimate goal to end slavery in Haiti. The organization has adopted a comprehensive approach to tackle the problem of restavek reaching out to community leaders, to host families and most importantly to the children themselves. Our work includes different projects such as Songs for Freedom, Justice Curriculum Training, the Regional Activity hub, Leadership Justice Conferences and Child Advocacy.
As an enthusiastic Child advocate, I would like to develop the latter. Child advocacy is directed primarily to the children in restavek or at risk to be restavek. It includes an educational program through school, some work in their home with their host family and some extracurricular activities such as field trips or summer camp.
Regular meetings help breaking isolation and building trust
RF is present in Port-au-Prince and is now expanding to the Southern region. RF pays for the tuition fees and school supplies for children enrolled in the program. But most importantly we establish a personal relationship with them. We visit them on a regular basis. This helps break the isolation in which they are often kept. We visit their school to make sure the teachers know about their particular situation. And we also visit their host family to improve the way they are treated.
3 days a week I visit the different schools in which kids are enrolled. This allows me to interview them and assess how they feel, the way they are treated both at home and at school, and if they are making progress. I meet them at least three times a year: once at the beginning of the year to know what they plan to do during the year and to give them school supplies, uniforms and backpacks; once mid-Year to update the information and see how they are doing and at once the end of the year to sum up the situation of the kid and note any changes.
In between, I try to provide as much psychological support as possible. This helps them realize that they are not alone. Face to face or by phone, I always do my best to have a positive relationship with the children and to establish a collaborative relationship with the school director and teachers in partnering communities.
We also organize host parents meetings to discuss how they can improve the situation of the children by treating them better or giving them less work. With time, we can see the situation getting better. And on a very pragmatic level, RF will sometimes give the children food, hygienic kits or shoes.
Finally as we want these kids, just like any kids, to discover new things and enjoy life as much as possible, we organize leisure activities for them such as summer camp or field trips. They enjoy these activities tremendously! During these moments away from their daily concerns, they smile with no restraint and it is an absolute joy to witness it.
Child advocacy helps children grow up
The most important thing that the Child advocacy program does for the children in restavek is to help them grow up physically and mentally. They start building self-esteem and confidence that despite their difficult past they might be able to build a future. Instead of suffering, they understand they can work to improve it their future.
Each time I meet with the kids, it is an opportunity to find their smile, which is the most difficult thing to find in the face of a person living in such a harsh situation. As a Child advocate, I feel good because I know I am helping the most hopeless kids to grow and become free. I will keep doing my best in this battle until we see the end of child slavery.
Would you like to learn more about the Restavek Freedom Child Advocacy program? Visit our website at restavekfreedom.org