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.