Pastor Bilda, who leads Restavek Freedom’s Justice Training program in Haiti, is known for his full-volume presence. His charisma, giant smile and infectious passion speak of the joy he finds in his work.
Haiti is a largely Christian nation, and churches and pastors have tremendous influence in the lives of citizens. Pastor Bilda enlists their cooperation in hosting six-week training sessions to teach congregations about national and international law for protecting children. Attendees also learn, through a scripture-based curriculum, of God’s heart for caring for children. They see, perhaps for the first time, the immorality of abusing and mistreating children, and the value for protecting and supporting them.
“I am a graduate from Communauté de Rhodée church, and I know a 16 year-old girl who was mistreated by the lady she lives with. The lady has children, but the girl is the one who does all the chores in the house. In addition, the lady has a boy who wants to rape the girl. But because she refuses his proposition, he fights with her. When I hear that, I talk to some people in the block and they decide to keep the child in their home for a while, and then try to find her mother.
“They finally find the mother and let her know what her daughter is going through. They tell the mother that she needs to come and get her daughter back. The next day, she came and took her girl back. As of now, she is living with her parents.” – Aniese, Justice Training graduate
These days, however, Pastor Bilda’s conversation is a little less animated and his smiles are somewhat fewer.
“It is sad here these days,” he said soberly. “We have to change our office schedules each week so that we can reduce the chances of kidnapping. Yesterday I left the office and saw as I came home that two men were killed and lying in the street.
“We cannot drive down the streets anymore either. The gangs have taken over the roads and put up roadblocks to rob and kidnap people,” he said. “I heard this week of a woman who hired a motorcycle to take her through back roads and paths to pick up her two daughters from school. There are so many rocks and boulders on these routes since it is not an actual road and it is so unsafe. And on the journey home there was an accident and the mother and both girls were killed.
“Our concern is that when there are so many problems, the first focus for the country isn’t the children. But this is what makes me excited,” he said, his face finally lighting up. “I am excited because, all over Haiti, and even where it is more dangerous in Port au Prince, people are committed to coming to church for six weeks to be educated about protecting the children!”
He continued, his voice becoming more animated, “After the training, every month we receive action reports from the churches. The participants who were trained have their eyes opened. We say, ‘Praise the Lord!’ as we see the results. They engage their communities and become a voice for the children who are suffering. They come to us and to their pastors and ask for assistance in helping children in restavek or providing these children with an education.”
“I feel encouraged,” said Pastor Bilda, finally taking a breath. “I feel encouraged that we can finally end the restavek system in Haiti.”
“As a former Restavek, I know what this system is about. Now I can say that there is a big chance to get rid of this system one day because of these kinds of trainings and awareness that are occurring in the community.
“Now, instead of thinking of taking my revenge on these children for what people did to me when I was younger, I am standing up for them so that I can help them. In this system you are not considered as human. But the justice training has enlightened my soul and helped me realize that all children have the same rights.
“I feel privileged to be a part of this great campaign of awareness.” – Marjorie, Justice Training graduate