Restavek Freedom Foundation
Literacy in Canaan

Canaan, named after the town in the Bible that was “flowing with milk and honey”, is a new settlement located north of Port-au-Prince, Haiti with an estimated population of 150,000. Canaan, along with its neighbors Onaville, Jerusalem, and St. Christophe, were sparsely inhabited before the January 2010 earthquake, but are now overcrowded.


The new literacy program began here 6 months ago, in a church at the top of the hill. The pastor, a quiet soft spoken man, is always happy to have visitors, especially from Restavek Freedom. He was one of the first people to settle here in the mountain. He has a little church and a small primary school.  



Inside the church you will not find much, only 9 pews and a few decorations to make the church look presentable.  The classes are held at the back of the sanctuary. We hold two classes, Alpha I and Alpha II, with a total number of 35 active participants. They are taught basic reading and writing in Alpha I. Alpha II is a 1st grade class.  When I first start speaking to a group I normally introduce myself and present the mission and vision of the foundation as well as our hopes for the participants. These programs are not only to teach adults to read and write, but are in place to mobilize people in the small neighborhoods to stand up for the freedom of children living in restavek. As I build relationships with the participants, I begin discussing the issue of restavek and its effect on Haitian society. We talk about what they can do to end this system, slowly changing their attitudes toward the treatment of children in their care. We end by projecting our hope for this program and ourselves.


One particular class has only one man among 15 women (He says he likes being the only man in the class…It pushes him to work extra hard to compete with the women!). His name is Guy; he is married with 4 children. He lays brick and cement block for a living but has not worked in almost a year. He heard about our program and decided to go back to school. He said he does not want to sit at home doing nothing while waiting for a job. He’d rather come to the program and learn how to read and write. The pastor sponsors Guy’s children at the primary school, allowing him to go to school for free. Guy is motivated to do well in class in order to give his children a better life.


Through building relationships with adults in the community, our goal is to be the voice for children who are currently living in restavèk. I believe that no child should be mistreated. I tell each person in class what the Bible says about the treatment of children; there is nowhere in the Bible where it says to mistreat children. I tell them that discipline is very different than mistreatment and putting them in inhumane conditions.


My hope is to expand our Child Advocacy program in to Canaan next school year; we already have a presence surrounding areas. These children need to know that there are people who care for them and love them just as they are. We do not want these children to think we have forgotten about them, and with the literacy program the movement is in full force. We hope that by working with the adults and helping to influence their attitudes towards children, that one day the children living in restavek will find happiness and peace in Canaan.




Djougine St Hilaire, RFF Child Advocate


Thursday, December 18, 2014 11:44:39 AM

If I Had the Chance

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I met this woman while visiting a friend last year. After befriending her and talking to her about what I do at Restavek Freedom she opened up to me, telling me her life story. I knew that it was a story that needed to be told. She agreed to sit down with me and answer a few questions.



Shinaida: When did you become a restavek?


Former Restavek: I was 6 years old when my mother left our family, leaving my father alone with 5 of us. A couple of months later, my father sent me to live with my godmother; That is when I became a restavek.


Shinaida: Why do you think your father chose to send you to live with your godmother?


Former Restavek: Because he had too many kids. He did not have the means to take care of us all.


Shinaida: How many years did you spend living as a restavek?


Former Restavek: Since I was 6. At 31, I still feel as though I live as a restavek…not independent. The people I work for treat me with no respect because of my background.


Shinaida: How many houses did you live in while in the restavek system?


Former Restavek: I’m not sure. I remember 15 different houses, but I think there might be more.


Shinaida: Tell me a little bit of how your life was when you were a restavek.


Former Restavek: Things were never good after leaving my parent’s house. I was always going from house to house and never had a moment of peace in my life. All I did was work and serve others. I was a slave as a child and still feel like saying I am one today. I still do the same chores, cleaning up for people that do not care for me and are not my family. If I had had a choice, I would have never chosen to be a maid because it gives me bad memories each time I have to wash dishes, or clothes, or go to the market place and cook. I get discourage because it takes me back to my past.


Shinaida: Were you ever treated well in any of these houses?


Former Restavek: The treatment varied, but it was never what you would call good. The treatment just changed. For example, in some houses the water was close so I didn’t have to travel a long distance to fetch it; in others it was very far away. Or in some houses I would get some food occasionally, and in others they never fed me.


Shinaida: Did the people you were serving ever send you to school?


Former Restavek: No they did not send me to school. When I first came to live with some of them, or when they would try and get me to live with them, they would promise to send me to school. They never did. When I started getting older they would encourage me to do the chores in the house, saying that if I did well on my chores they would send me to school.


Shinaida: What is your worst memory about living as a restavek?


Former Restavek: I have a lot of bad memories, but the worst memory is from when I was 10 years old. I had decided that I did not want to let my cousin have sex with me as he used to do almost every day, because in the morning while going to fetch water I heard some young girls talking about sex and how girls can get pregnant. I realized that what my cousin was doing to me was wrong so when he came during the day I told him no. I told him that what he was doing to me was wrong and if he continued I would tell the others about it. We were alone, and he beat me so hardly that I got sick; he told me that he would kill me if I told anyone. When the others came back he told everyone that I had beaten a pig he had in the yard and so he punished me. After that he would beat me each time I tried to say no and rape me anyway. I tried many times to run away to my father’s house, but each time my aunt would come find me and take me back.


Shinaida: Have you ever told anyone about that?


Former Restavek: Not until today. You are the first person I have ever told about that.


Shinaida: What is your biggest regret from being a restavek?


Former Restavek: My biggest regret is that they did not send me to school. If they had sent me to school I would have had the chance to reach my dreams. Now I no longer have any dreams.


Shinaida: How is your life today?


Former Restavek: I am not proud of what I have become. I feel like life is very miserable and unjust. I do not have hope anymore. Because of my past I have never thought of getting married or having children. I love children and have been taking care of other people’s children for a long time. I would love to have kids, but I do not want my kids go through what I’ve been through and I don’t make any money. I’d rather stay alone than to see my children go through what I have been through in my life. I live in fear, I always think I will get in trouble when I go out; I do not have any self-esteem.


Shinaida: How do you feel your life would have been if you had had the chance to get a good education?


Former Restavek: If I had gone to school I would have gone back to the countryside where I am from, to help prevent kids from coming to live in restavek system in Port-au-Prince. I would put a school there so that many people could get a good education. There are no good schools there, and I believe that if my parents were educated they could have had a way to make a living to take care of us, and I wouldn’t have been sent to live as restavek; I wouldn’t have gone through all the things I’ve been through in my life. I could have helped prevent people from having too many kids. Even today I know a lot of people who sent their kids away because they had too many. I could have opened an orphanage, or I could have put professional school in my hometown for young people there. There are so many things I could have done.




At 31, this woman has no hope. She feels as though she has no future because of her past. She is a perfect example of why I am working to end the system of restavek, to give each child the chance at a future; to build a generation that has an opportunity to have hopes and dreams.


This is why I cherish and support the work we are doing at Restavek Freedom. We are not only influencing and mobilizing people all over Haiti about the restavek issue, but we are giving hundreds of children the chance to go to school, to gain an education and a future. We are giving them someone who believes in them and is there for them, even if no one else is. They have someone who was there for them when they needed to talk, who choose to be their voice when they couldn’t speak, and someone who stands up and advocates for them in all circumstances. This is why I truly believe we can end the system of restavek.



image Shinaida Thomas, Restavek Freedom Child Advocate


Wednesday, December 10, 2014 2:47:00 PM

As a child advocate I know how restavek children are treated and the impact the treatment has on...


As a child advocate I know how restavek children are treated and the impact the treatment has on their physical, psychological, and academic progress. This is the reason that, in addition to visiting the children at school, we also make home visits. During these home visits we meet with the host parents to encourage them to treat the children better. Below is just a small glimpse of the impact of these home visits:           


Rosedaline is one of the children in my portfolio who I advocate for. She is a 13 year-old girl who was orphaned and has 3 brothers and 2 sisters. She lives with her aunts in an area of Port-au-Prince called Clercine. She was recruited into the Restavek Freedom Foundation’s Child Advocacy program in 2009. At first she had a lot of difficulties at school. She also had a difficult time expressing her feelings and I think that was what made school so difficult. Rosedaline failed school two years in a row.          


She told me that her aunts give her little academic support. That is most likely one of the reasons Rosedaline did so poorly during the first two years of school. Her aunts did not understand the value of school and the need to support Rosedaline academically and psychologically. However, during a school meeting with all of the host parents at Rosedaline’s school, one of her aunts came up to me and said “I would really appreciate it if you would visit us so that we could talk about how we can help Rosedaline  and treat her better.” I agreed to make this first home visit.   


This was one of many meeting that I had with Rosedaline’s aunts. We talked about the importance of education, the moral support that they could give her to help her do better in school, and how important it was to the child’s future that they avoid mistreating her. I explained to them that a child’s success is not only dependent on the child’s intelligence or how hard she works, but that the support they receive at home is also a significant factor. One of her aunts in turn responded that she did not know how to support Rosedaline academically but that the home visits and the school meetings had helped her see things differently. The aunt was happy to have been a part of these meetings and she congratulated the RFF Child Advocates for having set up the school meetings and the home visits. The aunt said that she had never really known that the way she treated Rosedaline could be so detrimental to her future. She now understands that children do not just need food and clothes, but love and support as well. I believe this is the problem with many host parents in Haiti—that they do not understand how much the treatment of a child could effect his or her future. 


I am happy to report that despite the difficulties Rosedaline was having when she first started school, she is currently doing well academically. Rosedaline has become much more confident. She is in the 5th grade and will soon be taking the Haitian 6th grade exams to move on to middle school. Lets all wish her luck!    


We are so happy that the home visits with Rosedaline’s aunts were successful!!   


Written By: Samuel Jean-Baptiste, Child Advocate


Monday, November 24, 2014 4:26:17 PM

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