A Restavek Named Haiti

January 22, 2011

Joegodson and Paul

This is the story of a little restavek named Haiti.

We have described the role of restavek in Haitian society through Joegodson’s personal experiences. A restavek is a child who has the misfortune to have no guardian. He or she is adopted into a family that pretends to protect his or her interests. Restaveks are deprived of education and basic human needs. They are valuable only insofar as their unpaid labour advances the interests of the adoptive family. They are exploited and abused according to the needs and desires of their ‘benefactors.’

Mrs. NGO and her husband, Mr. MNC, have taken in the little restavek called Haiti. Mrs. NGO claims the responsibility to care for the orphan. She promises to feed, clothe, and educate the child. However, the neighbours have great difficulty knowing what actually goes on behind closed doors. In any case, no one really wants to know the details. They have their own problems. They have no time or real interest in holding the stepparents to account; they are looking for their own ways To Get Ahead.

Haiti’s stepfather, Mr. MNC, is particularly harsh. He appropriates her labour. It is strange that the neighbours claim to be unaware that the vulnerable little child is being exploited to the point of slavery since they are openly buying in broad daylight the products that the kid is producing behind closed doors in the dark. Instead of challenging the stepparents, they wonder if they too couldn’t get themselves a live-in slave To Get Ahead. It’s a competitive world; everyone needs a restavek or two.

The stepmother, Mrs. NGO, was happy to see the child arrive. She told everyone that she was going to feed, clothe, and educate the poor little orphan. But then she closed the books – uh, doors – so that the neighbours couldn’t see what was happening inside. “Things are going very well,” she assured anybody who asked. “She’s a tough case, but I’m making sure that she has everything she needs.” Meanwhile, Mrs. NGO asks for help to raise the child. She needs money. She gets some. But the child remains ragged and thin. If the donors were to go inside the home, they would see that there is no bed for the child. On the other hand, Mrs. NGO has a new wardrobe. Fortunately, no one looks too closely. They prefer to focus on the evidence of their own benevolence: the donation. Mrs. NGO finds that if the child looks pitiful, then people give her even more money. In order to justify the contributions, Mrs. NGO decides to send the kid to school for a short while. But if anyone asks what the child is studying towards, there is absolute silence. Everyone knows that the ‘student’ has no future and there is no future for the ‘student.’ So no one wants to pursue the issue.

Once the child is grown, neither Mr. MNC nor Mrs. NGO has any use for her. She becomes a drag on the household. She starts talking about wanting to control her own life. She wants to make friends with the local bad kids (called Cuba and Venezuela). She offends her stepparents. So, she is thrown out of the house. They want nothing to do with her. They prohibit their birth children from playing with her. They report her to the police (the UN and MINUSTAH) as an unbalanced and dangerous presence.

Once on the street, she is an embarrassment to everyone. She reminds people everywhere of their shame. They prefer to turn away rather than confront their complicity. No one came to her protection when she was vulnerable and in the greatest need. Instead, it was then that people sought ways to profit from her. For instance, a local gentleman (let’s call him Klinton) claimed to be saving her from destitution. It was he who had come to the rescue of the abandoned child and had found her a home with his friend, Mr. MNC. But then he turned his back, not interested in her subsequent experiences. He tells everyone he is a great philanthropist, having helped the child in her hour of need. He doesn’t mention that he has been sharing the profits from her clandestine work for Mr. MNC.

And so, she walks the streets. She has a hard time communicating with people, because everyone refuses to believe her when she explains her past. They tell her she’s lazy and she should pick herself up and become independent. “Stop living in the past!” they chide her. “Why don’t you focus on the future?” She gets confused when they say that, because she doesn’t know how a future can possibly follow from anything but the past. But then, she never did get the education that would have allowed her to understand such complex philosophical propositions.

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