Friday, December 26, 2008

Restavek


In the truest definition of the word it means "one who stays with".

As Paige shared there are a number of these children living in our neighborhood. We are in an area that would be considered middle class - or as close to it as you'll find.

Most folks in our neighborhood did not inherit a bunch of money, nor are they descendants of the upper class French "bourgeois". Most own a small business and work hard to have a larger home in a more secure neighborhood. All of these working class have relatives, acquaintances and friends in the poorer mountain villages and out in the provinces.

The poor send their children in to work for the less poor. They figure their kids might get to eat more, possibly go to school. They often send them out of desperation. Sometimes they just cannot deal with their own children, so they send them away.

These children are easy to pick out. Usually when we see them they are working. Most of them do not appear to be as well taken care of as the other children living in their home. The girls will often have very short hair and be plain looking, giving them less self esteem. They speak quietly and keep their heads down.

Paige shared with you that she was thrilled that one little girl who is a restavek has been coming to her Kids Club and has even been allowed to come for some tutoring. We've felt at a loss when we think about her and are feeling a burden for her. She does not make eye contact when we talk to her. The people she lives with openly call her stupid and dull. She washes dishes and sweeps for them. They say that they "tried to send her to school, but she was too afraid and just cried". We are uncertain of how true that story is, but we do know that a child who believes they are stupid would not do well in school. The people she lives with offered her to us. Literally they said, "She is a hard worker, you can have her if you want."

You. can. have. her.

My God.

My stomach turns when I think about a valuable human being, created in the image of God, being treated this way. I want to scream, I want to lay down and cry, I want to fix it.

I am a foreigner learning about a new culture. Three years here has not taught me enough to confidently say much. I try very hard not to jump to conclusions about things or judge harshly. I cannot possibly understand everything that happens in this culture, it is not my own.

Having said that, this "system" might be one of the most frustrating ones of all for me to accept. The fact that children are used for labor and for the benefit of adults is beyond incomprehensible. There are occasions wherein the child benefits from this arrangement. But that seems to be more the exception than the rule.

[As an aside for adoptive parents. In general adoption is misunderstood. In this culture, if you take someone's child, it is so they can work for you. A lot of people will assume that is also why you are adopting. Jeronne recently told us that once everyone in LaDigue saw how kind we were to our Haitian children, they wanted to know if we would help with their children. We hope that our love and equal treatment of our kids will be evident when we're out and about in Port. Troy noticed a lady at a store observing his shopping with Hope. She later said to him, "You really love her, don't you!?!?!" She was surprised by it and pleased.]

This is a very well done piece about the system, I encourage you to read it.
I quote the author:

"I want to acknowledge that there are families in Haiti that do welcome children into their homes with the primary purpose being to care for the children and promote their well-being. However, in the case of the restav├Ęk system, the main reason the child is in the home is to work. It is not for the sake of the child; it is for the sake of the child’s masters. Today in Haiti, at least one in ten children does everything for free – getting up long before dawn, going to bed (on the floor) long after dark, doing all of the work of the house in the hours in between."

Here is another opinion piece.

And from others living here, read this.

In a recent comment, someone asked us what a restavek is.

I wish we did not know.