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Children’s Rights in Haiti, another trip up the mountain

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December 2012
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DSCF5360Children’s Rights in Haiti, another trip up the mountain

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.


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