One might assume that Restavek Freedom, in its efforts to eradicate the restavek system in Haiti, would start with freeing children from their current domestic bondage. However, we feel there is a more organic and sometimes more effective way to combat the restavek system – not by freeing children from their current situations, but by making their current situations better, more suitable, and more conducive to a brighter future. In this way, we have a higher chance of benefiting a larger number of children, while likely eliminating the restavek system from the lives of these children’s children.
Restavek Parent Outreach
In line with this, one outreach initiative that Restavek Freedom coordinates are meetings with the families who currently host restavek children. These are the typically wealthier or more well-to-do families (many times they are not “wealthy” as we would imagine it by any means, but wealthy in Haitian terms) that have taken in the child of a poorer acquaintance and are giving them food and shelter in exchange for domestic assistance. As we already know, these children are often forced to live in domestic slavery, enjoying little benefits of living with a more well-to-do family and instead serving as an often abused servant.
We’ve found that meeting with Haitian families to educate the host parents on child rights and Restavek Freedom’s goals and mission generally have a positive impact on the lives the current restavek children.
It usually doesn’t take much for parents to realize that nurturing and educating our future community leaders is beneficial to the entire society, not just to the children. The parents have a lot to gain as well.
At each meeting, we cover the vision and mission of Restavek Freedom: to put an end to the restavek system in Haiti. At first, some of the parents are skeptical that this can be accomplished (one parent recently commented that our efforts were too late, but at least the children in her household now had access to education, including educational needs like school uniforms and supplies), but many have hope that the system will soon come to an end.
We share with them the five keys that we use to drive our efforts; justice, education, collaboration, excellence, and integrity. We explain the rights of children, particularly the rights to protection and education. Primarily, we do our best to encourage host families to join us in our efforts, without vilifying them or making it seem as if we are elevating the child’s needs above their own.
Again, it’s about helping them see that Restavek Freedom benefits everyone, not just children. As we continue to stress, and as one member quoted at a host meeting not long ago, “You can prevent a child from eating, prevent a child from receiving an education, but you can’t prevent a child from growing up.” These children will be the future leaders of Haitian society and we must give them a better life in order to guarantee a better Haiti for all.
If we’ve done our job well in presenting our mission to the host parents, we encourage them to enter their children into our advocacy programs. The qualifications are simple: the child must be a restavek and must be living with someone other than their biological parents. As part of the program, we offer free resources to the child, including education and support. This service is at no cost to the host family and ensures that the child receives an education and fair treatment.
One Meeting Can Change the World
We receive a wide array of feedback from these parents, some of it more positive than you’d imagine from just a simple educational meeting. In one recent gathering, a woman noted that she appreciated Restavek Freedom for its work saying, “I always beat very hard my nephew. Now, I understand that there is another way that I can use, like more communication and more words. Thank you.” This woman came to the meetings, discovered a better way to interact with the restavek child in her home, and now that child is getting an education and a stronger support system.
It’s amazing what just one meeting like this can do to impact a child’s life and future. Want to learn how you can support more outreach initiatives like this? Check out ways you can get involved with the mission of Restavek Freedom.