Restavek Freedom Foundation

RSS
Apr 7

Carnival

Carnival has been over for a few weeks, but I can’t help but still think about it.

Carnival is a big event for us in Haiti. It’s a cultural, social and economic event.  In our tradition, it’s a popular party where adults and children can walk along the streets, day and night.  The musical groups start preparing for this event the second week of January and work until Ash Wednesday.

Every Sunday there are activities Downtown, Petion- Ville, Delmas and many other areas preparing for the big event.  Many people go to listen to music, dance, learn the songs of groups, as well as to meet friends. 

Carnival lasts 3 days, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, plus a celebration on the Friday before in Haitian schools. The children wear special beautiful clothes, masks and play music.  For those 3 days, there is a big popular manifestation on the street. It starts at 4PM and finishes the next morning at 3 or 4AM; this happens each night.  There are many activities, choreography, and Char Allegoriques (parade floats) to show and teach people the story of our Country. It’s an opportunity for us to show tourists all beautiful things we have in our Country.

The one thing that makes me sad about this party is many parents buy beautiful clothes, masks and costumes for their children to go to Carnival, but restavek children stay at home to work. Our children have the same problem at Christmas; the parents offer presents and good things to their children but children living in restavek receive only mistreatment.

For this reason we should continue to work harder in order to put an end to the restavek system that’s ravaging our society.

Francoise Leon, Child Advocate

Lakay se lakay - “Home sweet home”

My bus from Port-au-Prince to Jeremie was 30 minutes late. I was getting impatient, ready to leave for my vacation. When the bus finally arrived it took a long time to load everyone on; the passengers were for the most part unsure of where to sit, as public transportation in Haiti is not very good. 5 minutes before they decided to leave, a girl came to sit next to me on the bus. She was carrying a large, black plastic bag as her luggage, and I could see on her face shame and desperation. Heart break and the death of dreams were etched on her face. Suddenly, my attention turned from excitement for my vacation to a need to talk with her.

The bus finally leaves, the passengers settle down, and I start talking with this sad young girl. Her name is Yvelise; she is 15 years old and has been in Port-au-Prince for 15 months. I find out she is originally from the same part of Haiti as my mother, an area roughly 6hrs from the city of Jeremie. She tells me she was sent to Port-au-Prince as a reward for having passed the state exam. When she had learned she was to go to Port-au-Prince with her brother, she was so excited! She had worked so hard to succeed in school and dreamed about the trip every night; Yvelise was ready to begin her life in Port-au-Prince.

She tells me she remembers the day she arrived; her brother’s wife called her “idiot”. Day after day, Yvelise began to understand that the kind of life she imagined in Port au prince was an illusion. She could never have imagined people to be so wicked. She lost hope for a better life than the life that her brother and his wife offered her, which was far from a good one. I could hear the deep bitterness in her voice as she told me her story; she felt like she would never make it home, her dreams and hopes going up in smoke.

I sit comforting Yvelise, thinking about the courage it must have taken her to leave her brother’s, to return home. I began sharing with her the work that I do with the children at Restavek Freedom. I tell her that her courage will help her forgive her brother and his wife who have used her and broken the trust of her parents, as well as the courage to face her parents and other people in the community who may think she has made a poor choice in coming back. 

As I look out the window, admiring the road ahead, I think about Yvelise’s story and my thoughts bring me to my own childhood; of spending vacations with my grandparents in the countryside. I remember being so happy, playing interesting games with my friends, the freshness of coffee trees, cacaoyiers and the banana trees sheltering our crazy laughing, giggling and rejoicing. We were so special; and our grandparents gave in to our every whim. I am awakened from my daydream as we pull into Jeremie. I say goodbye to Yvelise, promising to come to visit her before my departure for Port-au-Prince.

Three days pass and I head out to the area where Yvelise lives. It feels a little strange to me. Finally, after 17 years, I am going back to a place where I went as a child; where my mother is buried, where my childhood friends (who I still imagine as children) are now grown up. The houses have changed, and there is almost no children’s laugher. I have so many mixed emotions. I am so happy to be back, but as I see the differences time makes I can’t help but be sad. The grandparents who were here have long since died, the children have grown and left to immigrate to the capital city (Port-au-Prince) and have never come back. Only the brave ones, the ones who have chosen to farm, have stayed. The only secondary school is 3 hours away; the market is also far away. There is no electricity and no clean water except for the rain. Life is very hard.

I meet Yvelise in the afternoon, and I immediately notice that she is so different! I find out that her mother and I knew each other when we were children and that she is one of the preschool teachers in the zone. During my meeting with her I am happy to see how she enjoyed her daughter’s presence. She said that she has visited Yvelise in Port-au-Prince once, but she did not have the strength to ask Yvelise to come back. I took the time to explain my work and how it is important for a child to grow in his or her parents’ love and care, that I have received so many testimonies about kids who went back to their biological families after a difficult experience in Port-au-Prince who are doing so much better.

The living in Yvelise’s home town is still very difficult but her parents feel proud to welcome their courageous child home and there is no place that she would rather be. There is this quote that Haitians love that Yvelise thinks sums up her story perfectly. It’s “Lakay se lakay”- “Home sweet home”.

Yvelise at home with her family.

Blog by: Nadine Augustin Paul, Child Advocate

Mar 3

Songs for Freedom is sweeping across the country of Haiti! Tens of thousands of Haitians are attending music competitions being held in all 10 departments, culminating in a grand finale at the National Soccer Stadium on August 23, 2014.

If you’re in Port-au-Prince this weekend, come to the West department finale and see what Songs for Freedom is all about! Where: Mayor’s Municipal Palace de Delmas
When: Sunday, March 9 at 4 PM

And check out this video!

Making a New Path: Katia’s Story

image

Katia is a 19 year old girl, the oldest of 7 daughters and is in the 9th grade. Growing up, things were very difficult in her household, especially between her mother and step-father. Katia’s step-father was routinely verbally abusive to her mother and the family struggled economically. Katia’s mother worked hard to find a job to help improve the family’s situation and fortunately, she was able to find a job. Sadly it was far away and only allowed her to spend the weekends at home with her daughters.  

Her mother’s new job made things more difficult at home for Katia. Her step-father began to use her as a release for his stress, speaking negatively towards her and physically hurting her, causing her to miss school regularly. She could not continue living in this environment for fear that something worse would happen to her, so she went to live with her cousin.

Today Katia has a safe place to live but is still struggling financially; her mother and cousin can’t provide her with the essential things she needs. With the support of Restavek Freedom Foundation, her Child Advocate Nathacha is working to find ways to continue to help and support Katia.

She is a courageous girl who holds on to hope for a brighter future. May God continue to give Katia patience and the capacity to keep pursuing her goals, so that she can achieve her dreams!

If you are interested in supporting Katia through child sponsorship please contact us at info@restavekfreedom.org

Nathacha Lucien, Child Advocate

Holding on to Hope

image

One day as I was visiting a school, I saw a young girl with an elderly woman in the school yard. The child smiled immediately upon seeing me and felt so happy she came over to speak with me. I was happy to make time to speak with her.

While we were speaking it became apparent that the elderly woman was the young girl’s grandmother. She began to explain the tragedy this child was living in; I was happy to listen. The child had lost her mother, her father and her little brother in the earthquake. She was trapped under rubble for many days. Her grandmother was concerned as she had no hope of working and didn’t know how to help her granddaughter attend school.

When I looked at the sweet girl standing in front of me with all the big scars on her face, and heard her grandmother explain her situation, I was deeply affected and wanted to help as much as possible. I quickly spoke with the school principal and completed all the formalities required to enroll Natalie in school.  

Through my conversations with Natalie I understand that things are still very challenging for her.  Her grandmother doesn’t have a job, and had to sell all the furniture in the house in order to purchase food. Despite all these problems, Natalie always has good results in school, and holds on to hope that things will change.

It’s always good for a person to be positive in life. Natalie has always held on to hope that her situation would change in the future; now it has. Through the support of a sponsor, Restavek Freedom Foundation is able to provide Natalie and her grandmother with meals and I am amazed to see she how much she has grown!

Natalie is fortunate that she has a strong relationship with her grandmother who accompanies her to school every day. Even though her grandmother can’t replace her mother, she has done her best to make her life happy; many children are not that fortunate in Haiti. Natalie is growing both physically and intellectually and is very happy. When I observe her in school now and see her smiling and running in the school yard it makes me feel proud. It’s always a pleasure for me to see her. This year she will go to the State Exam and is working hard to succeed.

The children in our program, like Natalie, are holding on to the hope for a brighter future; many of these children are awaiting sponsorship. To be the barer of hope in a child’s life please visit www.restavekfreedom.org/take-action

image

Francoise Leon, Child Advocate

Bravery and Strength

Darline, a 20-year-old born in the department of Nippes, was separated from her siblings after the death of her mother and father. Sadly she has no contact with them and does not know where they are living.

After the death of her parents, Darline’s godmother took her to live with her. She promised Darline that she would continue to send her to school, and make new friends, have new dresses, new shoes and a better life than before. This was not true.

Instead, Darline rose early each day (around 4:00am) and worked until late in the night (10:00pm or later). She fetched water; cooked, made the bed, cleaned, and cared for her godmother’s two boys all before breakfast. Then she took the boys to school and hoped to make it to her school on time. Darline was consistently late or missed school entirely since it was a long distance away from the boys’ school. She had no books or school supplies, and no time to study.

When she got home from school she repeated the same chores. No one spoke to her or loved her. Everyone ignored her. Her god mother only acknowledged her when she mistreated her, beat her and humiliated her. Darline was suffering and felt like her life had no meaning.

Fortunately, her life started to change soon after she was enrolled in the Child Advocacy program. She was able to leave her godmother’s house and move to a safer location. She met her Advocate who talked with her, encouraged her, and helped her to understand she had a bright future. Darline began school with a new uniform, shoes, books and supplies. She was also given the time she needed to excel in her school work.

Now she is a shy but strong 8th grader who is comfortable in school and is working hard to create a positive life. She is grateful for Restavek Freedom’s support and hopes to be able to help other children who have had a bad life one day.

During the two years I have been Darline’s Child Advocate, I have seen her become a brave young woman. She has gone through many struggles, but is finally feeling good and happy. She is very thankful and feels lucky to be in the program. I am so happy that we were able to help Darline!

Frantso Sagesse, Child Advocate


As Dr. King said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Join us in ending the practice of restavek. http://restavekfreedom.org/estore

As Dr. King said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Join us in ending the practice of restavek. http://restavekfreedom.org/estore

Jan 6

Rose’s Story: Part II

If you would like to read the first part of Rose’s story, please go here: http://restavekfreedom.tumblr.com/post/58062419796/enduring-the-pain 

In August 2013, after a long time of mistreatment, Rose decided to run away from her host family’s home in Port-au-Prince. I happened to visit her home the day she ran away. Due to the fact that I had just visited, the family thought I was responsible for her disappearance.

I looked everywhere but could not locate Rose. I kept expecting a phone call since she had all my phone numbers, and continued to get everything ready for her for the school year; her uniform was folded neatly and her backpack full of books and supplies. Finally, after almost two months, she contacted me and told me what she had been doing since running away.

Rose prepared her escape weeks before leaving the house. She had collected her possessions and left them at several neighbors’ houses; people she trusted. She ran away just minutes after I had visited her and spent a few days at her mother’s friend’s house in the southern part of Port Prince. Afterward, she went to an agricultural city in the Artibonite department to find her mother and her whole family who was there, waiting for her. Her mother was scared for Rose’s life, and told me that she would like her daughter to stay with her. “I know children who went back to Port-au-Prince and who died,” she said.

Rose is now living with her mother. Her mother may not have the means to take good care of her, but Rose is safe, well treated and very loved. I can see the joy on her face. She smiles. She goes to school every day and has time to study as real students do. She is hopeful about school and thankful to the Restavek Freedom Foundation for giving her the chance to continue her studies in another town, another school, while living with her family.

At Restavek Freedom we are still supporting children who are reunified with their family by providing transportation, school tuition, books, school supplies and uniforms. It requires more work and dedication from the advocate but is well worth it. The road to success is long and has many challenges, but the smiles on the faces of those children and their biological families are priceless.

Reunification is not always successful but we are always encouraged when families and communities embrace one of their own.  For Rose it was FREEDOM…..Libete!

image

Magdala Antoine, Child Advocate

Nwèl ann Ayiti (Christmas in Haiti)

I love Christmas! I definitely think it is the most magical time of the year. The Christmas season is a special season for most Haitians even if they do not have a lot of money or luxurious traditions like many people in other countries.

When I was a child growing up in Haiti, Christmas WAS the most wonderful time of the year, and also the busiest. Christmas decorations were up by October in most businesses and everyone in tap-taps were talking about “Nwèl”. Classical Haitian Christmas music from Haitian artists would blast through the radios in homes, markets and cars in Haiti. Then in December Christmas programs were posted all over the city of Port-au-Prince, people were in the streets trying to sell their goods and those trying to obtain what they needed for gifts; it was often a chaotic and crazy sight to me.

What I enjoyed the most about Christmas were the many Haitian traditions;  decorating with fanals and Christmas lights, eating cake, drinking Kremas, going to midnight mass on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve and staying up all night on New Year’s Eve to help make the Pumpkin soup.

Decorating with Fanal is so much fun! Fanals are Haitian originals. Kids or adults usually spend months cutting paper boxes, gluing, and shaping the Fanals into whatever shape they want. Sometimes they make them in the shapes of animals, churches, or houses. The Fanals are lit up with candles or Christmas lights at night time. We usually had at least five of them on our porch.

(an example of Fanal)

In my family, my aunt would cook all kinds of food, but her specialty was homemade cake. Eating cake is a treat for everyone because so often that is the only time of the year when some people will eat cake. To go with the cake we would have Kremas. In the U.S., traditionally people drink eggnog during the Christmas season. Imagine having eggnog mixed with Haitian rum, but with a twist; Kremas is made with coconut milk, ground nutmeg, evaporated and condensed milk, as well as vanilla extract….a mouthwatering specialty!

(Kremas)

People in Haiti make the best with what they have. Celebration with family and friends is highly valued, and going to church with the whole family is a tradition. Haitian people are very spiritual and take church seriously. Those who do not have a chance to make it to mass or a church service during the year make great effort to attend during the month of December. December 24th, Christmas Eve, is when most Haitians celebrate Christmas. Almost everyone goes to a Christmas Eve service to give homage to our Lord Jesus. The services usually start an hour or so before midnight. At midnight the traditional song “Minuit Chrétien” is sung by everyone in the assembly. People then go home sometime before 1 am.

The festivities continue until New Year’s Eve. I usually played with all the toys Santa brought for me … normally a doll! New Year’s Eve is a time to prepare for the end of the year.  This usually included a trip to the market place with my cousins to purchase the ingredients for the pumpkin soup! Pumpkin soup is a very special tradition in Haiti, signifying our independence. I would usually eat the pumpkin soup after going to church for the last time to thank God for the year.

There is usually a lot of noise in the streets on New Year’s Eve as everyone is out happily celebrating with fireworks and loud music. People stay up all night and rest the next day after filling up with lots of Pumpkin soup. After spending almost two weeks of celebrating and getting very little sleep, most people in Haiti sleep all day New Years’ day. It truly is a wonderful time of year. 

As I reflect on the memories I had as a child I also think about the children that I advocate for.  Most of these children will grow up without the benefit of wonderful Christmas memories. Most will receive nothing but will work hard on Christmas to serve the families they live with.  They will watch others receive gifts and watch as they eat the food that they prepared for the family while dealing with the reality that they are alone.

At Restavek Freedom, we have prepared small packages for each of our children that we will distribute to them soon. Hopefully it will bring a smile to their face and they will know that they are loved and that someone is thinking of them this holiday season.

We are grateful for all of the support we receive from people all around the world and for so many of you who contributed to the packages we will be delivering.  It gives us so much encouragement.  We are making a difference and we thank you for joining us in this cause to bring hope in the lives of these children.

I hope that your Christmas season will be filled with wonderful memories.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all!

Djougine Saint-Hilaire, Special Projects Coordinator

Meet our Child Advocate, Shinaida

Join us in getting to know Shinaida, one of our Child Advocates, a little better!

image

When did you start working for RFF?

I started working for RFF on June 7, 2010.

What are you grateful for?

I am grateful that I have the chance to be one of the people building hope into the lives of the kids we are working with.

What motivate you?

The kids and their innocence motivate me.

Who is your role model?

Jesus is my role model

Who inspires you?

My inspiration comes from my passion for the work I’m doing.

What are your goals/dreams?

My goal is to see that someday we have a good system that is available to educate, help and serve every single child living in restavek in Haiti. I want to see every child, especially the ones that we are working with, achieve their dreams and become what they dreamed of becoming.

What is one of your most memorable stories?

Joseph’s story is one of my favorite, most memorable stories. (Read Joseph’s story here)

What is your favorite junk food?

My favorite junk food is corn mixed with pumpkin.

What is your dream vacation?

My dream vacation is to spend two weeks relaxing on a cruise!

What did you want to be when you grew up?

I wanted to help people. I want to become a Social-Psychologist.