05 August 2010

"We don’t want to be restaveks"

The New York Times did a story in 2008 on the poorest of the poor in Haiti. They are called restaveks. Restaffs are Haitian children forced into domestic labor without pay or, sometimes, decent living conditions. I chose to share this story, and (in the future) others like it because I think it's a timeless photograph into a person's life.

After a natural disaster, it's easily for me to forget about the destitute situation that dirt poor Haitians, and others, have to live out everyday. I hope this serves as a reminder to us all that people from all walks of life are the same. And if our circumstances afford us the opportunity to give some of what we have to those less fortunate, then we should do just that.

Haiti - They are children like Widna and Widnise, twin 12-year-old girls who have been in the same Gonaïves home for the past two years.

They get up at dawn to fetch water, collect wood, cook, mop and clean. They watch as their host family’s two children, who are about the same age, eat breakfast and then go off to school. The twins eat nothing in the morning and stay home working.

The twins have it better than most, they say. They are hit on their palms if they are disobedient but do not receive lashings on their head, as they say many of the restaveks in nearby homes receive.

In the evening, they eat with the two other children and sleep on mats on the floor, just as those children do. They had shoes, unlike many of their contemporaries, although they lost those in the flooding.

But the girls said they did not like their situation. There is the teasing they get from other children, who tell them over and over that they will never grow up, that they will always be servant girls.

And they miss their mother, who works in the countryside as a domestic servant and visits the girls when she can. She tells them that she will bring them home as soon as she can afford to feed them.

“Our mother is too poor to take care of us,” said Widna, the more talkative of the pair, adding emphatically, “We don’t want to be restaveks.”

What they wanted most immediately on Thursday afternoon was food. Their host family had fled its flood-damaged home, leaving the girls alone. They arrived at a school in the Praville neighborhood where United Nations relief food was being handed out but were told that only women were allowed in line.

The pint-size girls sat off to the side until they noticed that some rice and beans were being dropped amid all the confusion. The girls looked at each other and then sprang into action with some of the other restaveks, scooping up the specks of food from the ground one by one.