- “ a slave child who belongs to well-to-do families. They receive no pay and are kept out of school Since the emancipation and independence [of Haiti] in 1804, affluent blacks and mulattoes have reintroduced slavery by using children of the very poor as house servants.” (4)
- “…treated worse than slaves because they don’t cost anything and their supply seems inexhaustible.” (4)
- “…do the jobs that hired domestics will not do and are made to sleep on cardboard, either under the kitchen table or outside on the front porch.” (4)
- “For any minor infraction they are severely whipped with the cowhide that is still being made for that very purpose.” (4)
- “Girls are usually worse off, because they are sometimes used as concubines for the teenage sons of their ‘owners’.” (4)
(Restavec: From Haitian Slave Child to Middle-Class American. John-Robert Cadet)
My first encounter with modern-day slavery was with the Restavec system in Haiti. After meeting Cadet, I read his book, Restavec: From Haitian Slave Child to Middle-Class American. Cadet’s book goes on to paint a vivid picture of his life as a child slave. The abuses he suffered and the childhood that he lost. I was then able to bring Cadet, on two different occasions, to Morehead State to speak at my church and on campus. Cadet focused on his life growing up as a child slave. He described a typical day for a restavec and then showed how easy it is to buy a child in Haiti by showing the following video.
In January of 2011, five months after my sisters moved in with their foster mom, my family flew to Haiti. My mom and my biological sister had traveled to Haiti in October for the first time to meet the girls. When they came home they both tried to explain what they saw. They tried to describe Haiti, the people the smells, traffic, living conditions. I thought I was ready for Haiti when we went. Nothing my mom or sister said prepared me for the shock and heartbreak I felt as I stepped out of the hanger and into Pout-au-Prince.
The first thing that hit me was the suffocating heat. It took me a minute to be able to breath. All around me were people, hands grabbing at my luggage, voices yelling at me in a strange language, bodies pushing together to get to cars waiting in a pothole filled parking lot. We found our driver the adoption agency had sent us and climbed into an old van with no seatbelts, air-conditioning, and cracked windows.
My youngest brother, he was 10 at the time, looked out of the window in fear. His eyes as round as sand dollars. I watched as Port-au-Prince flew by me. Men, women, and children walking bear-foot, children drinking from the same water someone was bathing in, tent after tent used as the only form of shelter. Garbage piled as high and wide as a two story building, food being sold in outdoor markets in between the piles of garbage. It was a year after the earthquake, yet I felt as if it had just happened. Buildings were still crumbled to the ground.
On many of the faces of the older generations I saw despair, hopelessness, pain, and a lack of will to live. The children on the other hand were laughing; playing soccer with empty bottles and cans, for them life was still worth living. They were just kids, they had no worries. Then I saw them, the children carrying buckets on their heads. A young girl dressed in rags carrying another girl dressed in a nice clean school uniform on her back. From what I had read and learned from Cadet and his book I began to see the hidden children.
At that moment I knew that I wanted, needed, was being called to do something to help the children of Haiti. Then I met my sisters for the first time. When I walked out of the elevator into the lobby of the hotel we were staying at I was welcomed with arms thrown around my neck. T squeezed and told me she loved me. Her English was minimal but from phone conversations and our foster mom both girls had learned how to say I love you. I didn’t know it was possible to fall in love with two people so quickly. By the end of the fourth day they were part of the family. Watching our foster mom drive away with them, on our last day, was the hardest thing I have ever done. I couldn’t stop crying, knowing that we were leaving them behind, not knowing when we would be able to see them again.
As we drove back to the airport I vowed to myself to become more knowledgeable in the area of modern-day slavery. I became passionate, almost obsessed, with learning all that I could about the lack of social justice around the world, the complete disregard for basic human rights. I promised myself I would go back to Haiti to do mission work, to help in any way that I could. I still want to go back. I haven’t been able to yet. There is something about the country that calls me. It may be the people, their culture. It may be the land, the beauty and mystery to be discovered. All I know is I have a longing, a nagging, a calling, the greatest desire to go back. Through all the bad I saw a breathtaking beauty in Haiti. The pure white sand and crystal clear blue ocean water sounded by mountains were mesmerizing. The Caribbean music that filled the air made me want to dance, to sway with the rhythm. I fell in love with Haiti over a course of four short days.
People who have not been to Haiti do not understand. I have a very good friend who went on a medical mission to Haiti not long after I came home. When I skyped him he told me he did not truly understand what I meant until he was standing in Haiti. He said “people don’t get it. You try and explain the feelings, what you have seen but to truly understand you must go.”