Making a Difference… One Child at a Time
By Adeline Bien-Aime – Director of RFF Transitional Home
Ti Mari was 13 years old when her mother died; she had nowhere to go. A woman approached Ti Mari’s father and told him that if he would send the girl with her to Port au Prince, she would take care of Ti Mari and enroll her in school. Because the father had no means to care for Ti Mari, he quickly agreed and within just a few days she was on a bus with a stranger headed for a totally new life in the city. Ti Mari heard the promises made to her father and she could only hope that it would be true. As they traveled in the bus, she heard the woman saying terrible things about orphans; using horrible names to describe them. Ti Mari’s hopes began to fade with every mile, and she knew that she would never see the school, the nice clothes or the happy family the woman had promised.
They arrived in Port au Prince very late, and instead of a the warm bed and nice clothes that Ti Mari was promised, she found herself sleeping on the floor under the bed of her new “aunt” without any covering. In the morning, she was woken by rude shouts and the first day of her life of slavery began. She was required to do all the work of the house. She fetched the water, washed the clothes, prepared the food, looked after her “aunt’s” children, went to the market, cleaned the house and was so tired she could barely eat by the end of the day. When she wanted to rest, the “aunt” became very angry and shouted at her. The next day was much the same, but when Ti Mari failed to prepare the food as quickly as demanded, she was beaten severely and slept without eating. Her life became a nightmare of hard work, rude insults, beatings and servitude day in and day out. After some time Ti Mari grew used to answering to different names than what she had been called at home by her precious mother. She now answered to such names as “the dirty one”, “the thief”, “the shameless one”, and even worse…
One day when Ti Mari went to fetch the water, she met a very beautiful and young woman near the water source. The woman spoke so kindly to her and when the woman smiled and touched her arm, Ti Mari thought she was dreaming. The beautiful woman was Natacha, a child advocate for the Restavek Freedom Foundation in Port au Prince, and she asked Ti Mari why she wasn’t in school. After a few minutes with the beautiful woman, Ti Mari began telling her the whole story of how her life had become so terribly difficult since her mother had died. Ti Mari was usually shy, but she found it very easy to talk to Natacha; she was only afraid that someone might tell her “aunt” that she was talking to someone, which was forbidden. Ti Mari spoke with Natacha of her constant hunger, loneliness and pain, and Natacha was extremely concerned.
Soon after, Natacha made a visit to Ti Mari’s home. She met the host aunt and convinced her to allow Ti Mari to attend school. Natacha enrolled her in school and continued to visit Ti Mari, keeping a watchful eye on her education and living situation. It made Ti Mari so happy to have someone that she could share her difficult experiences with and she treasured her relationship with Natacha.
Although Ti Mari was enrolled in school, her attendance was extremely inconsistent. She was kept home from school many days to cook and care for the “aunt’s” young children, which would cause her to miss her school lessons and fall behind. Also, if Ti Mari was ever unable to complete her housework, her aunt would beat the young girl with a big stick. One Saturday, Ti Mari was beaten so badly she was left injured and bleeding. When Natacha went to visit Ti Mari at school she was devastated to see the bruises and hear the terrible story. That day, Natacha requested for the girl to be taken to the Restavek Freedom Transition Home, and we at the Transition Home planned for her arrival.
The “aunt” initially refused to let Ti Mari come to the Transition Home, but after Natacha explained to the “aunt” that she had broken the law by beating the child, the “aunt” agreed to let Ti Mari go. We were so happy to welcome Ti Mari with some great smiles and big hugs! Even though she had so many marks on her body, she was a beautiful girl and her smile made all of us happy. For Ti Mari it was the first time since being taken by the “aunt”, that she slept on a bed, used soap, was given toothpaste and wore sandals. More importantly, it was the very first time she had felt love since her mother died.
Ti Mari’s life has totally changed; she is beautiful, secure, loved and doing very well in school. She believes God has a very special purpose for her life and that she was saved from slavery for a reason. Ti Mari wants to tell every restavek child in Haiti that there is hope. We must continue this difficult work because we are making a difference in their lives, one child at a time.
Photos: Top, Natacha with one of the many children she advocates for. Bottom, Adeline with some of the girls at the transitional home.