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