After visiting Haiti, you always end up feeling the need to help in some way. You end of feeling powerless, angry, guilty, and why people have to suffer when others don’t? Why people have to die so easily from drinking water that could have been purified if they only had 15.00$. You end up going back to your nice, comfortable life where you can buy your food at the supermarket that is not so far away, rather than walk three hours to the market to sell your meagre produce and earn only 17.00$ a month.. You fall asleep easily in your nice, comfortable bed, without being surrounded by malaria mosquitoes eating at you all night. You just ease on in to your easy life.
So my wish, while we are all reading this in our nice easy lives, is to raise $28.00 from each person who feels that they can afford to donate that amount of money (or even less, or more), and if we get enough people to donate, then we could raise enough money to hire an educated farmer for these isolated, poverty communities so that they can learn how to live off the land, and earn more money. So that they don’t have to send their children off as slaves to be beaten, raped and tortured. So that they can just live, the way we do.
So if you have any spare change lying around, please go to this link and donate what you can http://wishes.causes.com/wishes/495052
Restaveks are children who are sent away to homes that are a little better off than their own, under the misconception that the children will be better cared for. However, these restaveks are treated no better than slaves in the household. They sleep on the floor, they are beaten daily, they do all of the of chores, from fetching the waters miles away and carrying the heavy buckets on their heads back and forth, to making the food, to cleaning, to anything and everything else, with many slaps, beatings, and often rape. The parents who send their children away are told that their children will be sent to school, and given food, and so these parents think that they are sending them off to a better life.
Yesterday, I went to spend the night in another community where Beyond Borders is working to prevent the continuation of ‘restaveks’ (families unwittingly sending their children into slavery). We again drove for about an hour outside of Jacmel, on really rough roads. I have never been sea sick, but I certainly felt it on that drive, going from one large rock to the next, swaying back and forth. We stopped at a point where I thought, now how are we going to go through those trees! Of course, you never know what to expect in Haiti; somehow I thought that the driver had a plan to get through the blocked path, magically. Okay, ou met ale, he said. Ah ha! that’s where he was going to let us off; we would walk the rest of the way.
You know, they always ask me, “Are you okay to walk ten minutes?” They think a blan (a white person/ foreigner) can’t walk much at all. “Oh yes, of course I can walk,” I say. This time, they had warned me that I would have to walk a ways to get to this community. “Oh yes, I love walking,” I quickly assured them.
We set off up the mountain, a straight ascend, scrambling over loose, falling rocks every step of the way. A little more than an hour later, and after I had sweat through my socks, my shirts, my shorts, and had drunk a whole litre of water (that was supposed to last me two days), we arrived. I have to say, I was proud of myself. I had outwalked my Haitian friend, who admitted finally that he was tired.
This community, like the one I had visited in Lagonave, is extremely isolated. It not only is an hour away from any road, that hour is not an easy route. Someone agile and young can make the trek. Anyone else would find it very difficult. To get to a source of water, you have to walk all the way down that mountain, and walk back up that mountain, carrying your heavy water bucket on your head. You would probably do this twice a day. Most people in this area don’t have treated water, so cholera and typhoid run rampant. Cholera can kill in you in days, and typhoid, it takes a little longer. Although it only costs 10.00$ to buy a filter or treatment and prevent these diseases, it is too much to ask. In most places farmers may earn 7.00$ – 10.00$ a month, if they are lucky and the weather has been good. Because of its isolation, and its being high up on the mountain, it is difficult to have a garden and grow plants that will survive, though farming is the only way to eke out a living up here.
How can they survive? You wonder.
As for schools, something you and I take for granted in nice, organized countries like ours, here –
There are very few schools on these mountains, and when there are, the teachers aren’t trained, there are no text books to be found, no paper, no pens or pencils, and the classrooms are small, primitive places with only wooden benches. In this community there are about 260 children of school age, but fewer than half can go to these schools at any one time because their parents can’t afford to send them. Most families have anywhere from ten to fifteen children…,
Imagine why families might think of sending their children away to other families, some distance away, that say they’ll care for the children and give them a better life….
When Beyond Borders came to visit this community, the villagers were unable to pay their teachers, lacked classrooms (and textbooks, pens, paper, pencils..). Many children in the community were being sent away to live their lives as restaveks.
Beyond Borders assisted the community in building a school, teaching the teachers, paying for textbooks, and working with the parents. During a six month period, someone from Beyond Borders meets with the parents in a group of about 30 people for two hours a week. They talk about who restaveks are and how they are treated, and work with the parents on ways to prevent sending their children away as restaveks. After these training sessions, Beyond Borders has seen a quantitative difference. The families go and and bring their mistreated children back into their homes.
In this community alone, 30 children have been brought back out of slavery.
There are many other communities like these, isolated and extremely poor without any real means of survival.all over Haiti. Beyond Borders is working with 8 communities here in Jacmel, and each community has its own story to tell, and has seen a difference after Beyond Borders works with them. They bring their children out of slavery and back into their homes, they are able to send them to school, and they are given hope, thanks to Beyong Borders’ dedication to these communities.
While Beyond Borders works with parents and teaches them about the realities of restaveks to prevent them from sending their children away, they are developing programs to assist the problems that the communities face. Namely, the economic problems which are the main cause of restaveks being sent away – quite simply, the parents can’t afford to feed another mouth in their house.
While micro-finance in places like these extremely isolated communities may not be the best solution, working with the farmers to improve their techniques and allow them to grow food to support their families, or even sell some food at the market seems to be the best approach.
Beyond Borders has now started a pilot program with an educated farmer, who studied agroculture out of university. He is working with two of these isolated communities to figure out ways that they can improve how much they can grow. Quite suprisingly, while most Haitians have work off the land, they use techniques that are either outdated or completely ineffective. For instance, they don’t know what composting is and how it can improve their soil. Or you see people burning trash on their land, thinking that it will help the land. There are so many simple things that people can do here, if only they are taught.
This is why Beyond Borders has hired a farmer who has learned these improved techniques, to go into the communities. They would like to be able to do this in all of the eight communities, but Beyond Borders doens’t have the financial resources to hire another skilled farmer. If only they could reach more people in these desperate situations, and improve their lives.
Coming to Haiti after 7 years of being away, I see many more UN vehicles, UN compounds, and UN workers with their big guns standing on their UN trucks.
Unfortunately they aren’t received very well here, and one of the reasons is that it is commonly known that UN workers rape the women here.
UNITED NATIONS – U.S./U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice says she is “disturbed” for a whole range of reasons after a recent visit to Haiti, including allegations of a number rapes by U.N. workers of the women in Haiti. http://www.wnd.com/2012/03/u-s-disturbed-by-allegations-of-rape-epidemic-in-haiti//
A while ago, there were huge protests against the UN here because a UN worker raped a Haitian boy. What is interesting is that although rape among women and UN workers happens, it doesn’t cause any protests.
Because here in Haiti, there is a big difference between the rights of women, and the rights of men.
Just as there was a news story recently that shook the world about a 14 year old girl who was raped in Morocco, and then was forced to marry her rapist, and committed suicide, this happens here in Haiti as well.
Women who are raped are seen by their families as ‘wasted’ and can no longer be married off. If there are children that come from this violence, sometimes the women must marry the men who raped them.
I wouldn’t say that such sexual violence against women is normal here, but it is certainly not uncommon.
The perception that women are of lesser value than men does not help. If, for example, a family has sons and daughters, they will send their sons off to school if they must chose between the two because they can’t afford to send both. They feel that a women’s place is more at home, in the house.
Polygamy here in Haiti is rather common, with men taking on several women. However, if a women were to do this, it would be seen as outrageous and disgusting.
There are efforts being made to stop sexual violence against women in Haiti. About ten years ago, a law was enacted that made it illegal. However. The law, though on the books, is not enforced. The judicial system can be extremely corrupt and bribery can determine the outcome of a complaint, no matter what the crime is. I have heard that if a person knows someone who works with the police, then that person can even get a complainant against him – someone who went to the police seeking justice — killed.
Beyond Borders is trying to improve women’s rights in Haiti by providing a program that teaches non-violent communication and encourages conversations on improving everyone’s awareness of women’s rights. I will be visiting this program in a few days to observe it in action.
Yesterday, I went to visit a model community here in Lagonave.
A model Community is a program set up by Limye Lavi, the Haitian Partner of Beyond Borders. They work in the most deprived, poorest of poor areas in Haiti to prevent child slavery. The program works in a whole community, working with all of the parents in this community. The model communities are extremely isolated. It took us an hour and a half by moto on the common, very rocky, unstable roads in Lagonave. We then had to walk an hour from the dirt road onto a windy small path. One of the parents in the community walked with us to show us where to go on the small path. He was showing us where his parents lived, his cousin, etc – but where he pointed, I could barely see a any type of house, as it was so far away.
Out there, your neighbor was atleast a half an hour walk, the only source of water was atleast an hour, to a three hour walk,
to get to school? Well there was no school.
To get to the doctor if you are sick? Maybe two days. You would have to go to the only hospital on the island (of 150,000 people). Imagine if you were sick and had malaria and couldnt walk (and you had no shoes), you were so sick, that you had to go to the doctor.
(Malaria is so common here, I know of four people who have it here, and I have only been here for three days)
Plan on atleast a two day journey to get there, and plan to spend about 90.00$ total, which includes the transport to get there, the doctor visit, and the transport back. You would have to stay the night there because it is too far from your house. You would also have to eat during this journey. But the catch is that, you only make about 7.00$ a month as a farmer.
The model community program works on places like these where there are no jobs, no schools, no doctors, not even water ; where it is of the utmost struggle to survive. To just simply live. These are the places where families have 15 children because there is nothing else to do, and there is no education. And this is why child slaves are so rampant here.
Normally, the parents who send their children off as ‘restavec’s (translated as stay with) don’t know how they will be treated at their new home. They are told that their children will get an education and food everyday. The model community program works with these families who are at risk of sending their children off as slaves unbeknowst to them, or who have already sent their children off. There are people who are trained within the community to teach the parents about who restavecs are and how they are treated. They use books to show them, plays and demonstrations.
When I spoke to one of the trainers, she said that as she was reading the book out loud to these parents, some of them started to cry, and some of them were really taken a back. It hit their conscious. The pictures in the books showed the reality of the life of a ‘restavec’, of the children being beaten to the ground day after day, doing all of the house chores including carrying heavy water buckets hours at a time. The program works best as educating the communities about the realities of the restavecs, and after the parents have been through the program, they either go and get their children who were sent off as restavecs, or make sure to visit them as often as they can to make sure they are doing okay. They also plan their lives better around the idea of preventing their children from being sent off.
I imagined if I were placed in this community and had to live here for the rest of my life. What kind of life would I have? I don’t know how I would tolerate, let alone survive this kind of struggle.
When I lived here, Sonson and Angela, some of children I lived with,
would have to go get water at 4:00am because they had to walk for an
hour, and wait in line at the spring, and go to school on time. I
would hear them every morning get up, and think, I should go with them
once and see what it is like, but never did.
Now they had a water pump installed in the centre of the village! So
there is longer such an arduous process which made their lives here
such a struggle. It is incredible. This happened through a 13,000$ grant from a foundation, and they came and built it, three years ago!
I came to the school here, and it has grown immensely! Ten years ago,
it was simply a small structure, with solar electricity, so it was
still more advanced here. Now, they have several more buildings, for
more classrooms and a library! I couldnt imagine this before. They
have books that the children can use and take out. That is so unheard
They have a music room, with guitars and drums, and a piano, which is
also so rare. They have an art room, they have a small room where they
sell art that they make. Art, and creativity, taught in Haitian
schools is completely unimaginable. The situation with schools here is
that is memorization, in a language not their own. No where is
learning and thinking really involved. That is why this school is extremely progress. The teachers are trained in a manner similar to the way the teachers in america teach. To create a thought process, and for the students to think for themselves, and grow as individuals.
It is truly inspirational how it has evolved here in ten years time. This is what happens when someone thinks bigger, and dreams. You would have never thought that this could happen here, or just to imagine
that there would be this here. I didn’t.
Alot of it is down to the people here who work here, and Chris Lowe,
an american who in fact founded Lekol Matenwa years ago. She lived
here, and decided to found this school, which had the vision of
becoming a community centre. It is a central place for people living
hours away. She and her friend she made here came up with the idea and
the seed was planted.
And now, her seed has a legacy, helping hundreds of children gain an education, a sense of self, and dignity.
This is something that we should all hope for. For before you leave this earth what will you have done towards the betterment of humanity.
Leaving a legacy
Its really strange being back here, really nice, but I thought that it would seem just as if I weren’t gone. Its hard imagining that I spent 5 months living here.
Life here is so hard. I expected that many of my friends, neighbors and family would be dead, because it happens. But they are all still alive!! Its wonderful! Even Abner’s mom, who was old when I met her! She is still alive. A few people have moved up in the world, and the children that I knew and lived with, they have become adults now. I didn’t even recongnize them. They have become adults – with no means to do anything with their lives. I asked one of them, Geordanie, why he wasn’t going to church this morning. no shoes. Miguel is 21 and has four more years in high school to go, and then what? no university. Then there is Tigas, who went to university and studied, and now he back home because he couldn’t find a job. Geordanie is 20 and has three more years in high school to go. depending. the reason why they are so old in school is because they usually can’t afford to go, because they are private schools, and so he misses the years of school since he cant afford it. his mom died in 2005, and his dad died this year.
Again, there are so many people around the family’s house I am staying at, and i don’t know how they are related, or if they are. they eat there with us, and take care of the house, but i have no idea who they are, in relation to the family. but thats the thing, they dont need to. they could be neighbors that need food, or distant cousins. anyway,
So its hard to explain what it is like here, without showing you. its life on a small, isolated island, in the country, amidst big green mountains everywhere. To get to the market to buy anything, a snack, food, clothes, it takes 2 hours to get there and you go on tuesday, friday and saturday. if not, you don’t have anywhere to buy anything here. Youre very isolated from many things. It is really the basic which you have, friends, family. you have roosters and goats to wake you up in the morning, and small bucket to wash yourself with, and you play dominoes with your grandparents, friends, cousins at night when it gets dark under your kerosine lamp. there aren’t opportunities for you to do anything else, to get out of this type of life. even if you try. theres nothing. I still get the, how are you – oh i am sick, hes been sick for years. he cant walk. and then you think, if only he lived in england, where he could get better. because you know the reason why he is sick is more often treatable. thats the thing, most of what people die from here is treatable – it can be prevented, and it can be stopped.
Here is my itinerary in large brush strokes.
I will be arriving tomorrow at around lunch time, where my old friend Ben will meet me. We will go to Lagonave, a small, isolated island off the left side of Haiti, for the weekend.
This is where I taught French and lived in a small village with a family, in a close community. That was 10 years ago. I hope to see familiar faces, but don’t know how many as death is always nearby in everyones lives, and I would guess many of the people I knew may not be with us anymore due to malnutrition, bad water – giardia, dengue fever, malaria, typhoid, HIV, and the list goes on. I hope that this assumption isn’t true though. I hope that everyone who I knew is still there, with families, or jobs, and thriving in their lives. To be honest, I don’t know what to expect…
Then the following week, I will be in Port Au Prince, staying with a family that Beyond Borders knows well. My schedule is open.