What is the greatest holiday gift you can imagine giving?
How about freedom?
That’s the gift Marie* received last year, thanks to your continuing support of Free the Slaves.
Marie was a restavèk slave in Haiti. Restavèks are children sent away by impoverished families to live in wealthier homes.
They work difficult and demanding jobs as maids and nannies. They endure physical and sexual abuse, and are denied proper nutrition, sleep or education. In short, they are domestic slaves. Marie was enslaved at age 8.
Fortunately, Free the Slaves and our Haitian partners were training residents in her town to recognize slavery, to protect and rescue children, and to help vulnerable families find ways to care for their children at home. They formed a child protection committee, which they call a KomAnTim.
The KomAnTim learned about Marie’s situation. Malnourished and hungry, she had been caught taking a snack without permission from the woman who enslaved her. As punishment, the woman burned Marie’s hand in an open fire.
Members of the KomAnTim sprang into action, contacting a local court. The slaveholder fled town, leaving Marie behind. One member of the KomAnTim adopted Marie into her home to give her the love and care that every child deserves. Marie is now enrolled in school.
Your contributions allow Free the Slaves to work with groups like the KomAnTim in 600 communities around the world—in Haiti, India, Nepal, Ghana, Brazil, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. These groups are transforming their communities, eradicating slavery, rescuing children and adults. They are the vanguard of a global movement for freedom.
Last year, Free the Slaves supporters like you gave Marie the greatest gift a child can receive. Will you give that gift of freedom to another child this year?
(*Marie is not her real name.)
Editor’s note: FTS Programs Director Karen Stauss rode out Hurricane Sandy last week while working in Haiti.
I just drove past these words, painted haphazardly in French onto the side of a whitewashed wall:
“Together let’s build Haiti. And rebuild it.”
Was that irony? Or just a plain acknowledgement that this gorgeous island country repeatedly suffers knockouts that require it to clamber back to its feet?
The first time I was here, in October 2010, was soon after I’d started working at Free the Slaves. The guesthouse where we stay in Port-au-Prince was full to breaking point, primarily with Americans who had come to provide what relief they could after the devastating earthquake that hit in January of that year – nurses, builders, experts in agriculture, and others who simply had willing hands. Today, I am the only person occupying my 10-bunk bedroom.
The change has made me think again about what rich countries, and our willing hands, accomplished then. Not just in 2010, but throughout Haiti’s repeated setbacks over decades of political instability and natural disaster.
Our core belief at Free the Slaves is that people everywhere have the strength to solve their own problems, when they organize to support one another and when they unleash their own creativity.
Outsiders are not always well-meaning – but even when we are, we often muck things up because the truth is, we often don’t really know what we’re doing.
This lesson has been learned by many major development institutions, but unfortunately not by all. For FTS, the lesson is to use our own resources in the most effective way we know how, in order to meet communities halfway.
Yesterday, I visited a community in Haiti where our U.S. State Department-supported program just started to work late last year. We began with a house-to-house survey, conducted by the community itself, to find out directly from them the details of their social and economic conditions, with a particular focus on children.
FTS works closely with a grassroots organization, Fondasyon Limyè Lavi, bringing tools to mobilize communities around children’s right to be free from domestic servitude and other forms of abuse. We help open up discussions, but they tell us whether it’s a problem for them, and then they decide whether it’s a problem they want to solve. If it is, we help them organize to do it, but again, they come up with the solutions themselves.
Most of the time, a good part of the solution is simple. Parents alerting other parents to the dangers of sending their children away to find a “better life.” Parents deciding they’ll retrieve the children they haven’t seen in years, or at least start to check up on them regularly. Or parents deciding they won’t send their own kids away in the first place. People feeling supported, rather than stigmatized, if they intervene to stop a neighbor abusing a child. Making these norm changes is close to cost-free.
But meeting kids’ rights, like the right to education, costs something. When parents decide they want to protect their children from domestic servitude and other abusive child labor practices, putting them in school is part of the solution.
This process of meeting communities halfway was made a visible reality for me when I saw chairs piled up in the corner of a one-room school yesterday, on a Saturday. Free the Slaves supports teacher salaries for accelerated education, but the kids had to bring their own chairs at the beginning of the school year this month.
Each chair represents a child coming back to school after having been forced to abandon their studies early on. For some, it might seem sad that students have to bring their own chairs. But the story of those chairs reminds me of what we’re doing here.
We can bring what we’ve learned in other places, about the power of the most downtrodden people to create change. We can share strategies as they brainstorm. We can support them with tools to prevent individual tragedies in children’s lives. In other words, we support them when they’ve set their own minds, hearts, skills and hands to protect something and to build something.
Because build they must. The disasters keep coming. Last week, Sandy merely sideswiped Haiti as it beat a trail for the eastern U.S. From where I sat in a comfortable house on the southeastern coast of Haiti, three days of heavy rains and power outages only felt like an inconvenience.
But for a country with missing or degraded infrastructure, eroded hillsides, and lots of shoddy homes, it was a disaster. At our indefatigable partner organization Fondasyon Limyè Lavi, one staff member lost an aunt and four cousins in a landslide in a rural area. The wife of another staff member had her leg fractured when a wall collapsed on her.
Parts of the country are cut off from the rest while they wait for waters on shallow rivers to subside, just enough so that they can once again walk across the rivers without getting swept away by the current. And we were delayed on the drive back to Port-au-Prince this morning because an angry blaze of tires was burning in the middle of the national road – a frequent sign of protest in Haiti. The complaint this time? A truck had just tried to make its precarious way across a partially collapsed bridge nearby and had fallen off, apparently killing some foot travelers who had hopped aboard the trailer to get across.
It’s understandable that you may be tired of hearing about the litany of horrors in places like Haiti. I certainly am. I assume Haitian people are. It’s especially tiresome when we don’t think we can do anything about the problems. That’s why I am so happy that there is something we can do, and that I get to see it taking hold.
Editor’s Note: This story was taken from the FTS website and edited.
Like tens of thousands of children in Haiti, Cam-Suze was held as a restavec, a child slave. Haitian parents who lack the resources required to support their children must often send them to work for a host household as domestic servants. However, restavec is considered modern day slavery since children may be denied a proper education, and could be abused, beaten, or raped.
But, Cam-Suze’s life changed when she met Free the Slaves’ partner, Limye Lavi.
THEN AND NOW
When she was recently asked to contrast her life now with a childhood in slavery she said: “Oh my life was in danger! [But now] my life is beautiful.”
The term ‘beautiful’ certainly wouldn’t describe the early years of Cam-Suze’s life. In fact, she says she lived in misery. Now 15 years old, she was first enslaved at the age of six. Like many restavec children in Haiti, she was forced to work for a family. Looking back, Cam-Suze remembers: “I did a lot of work. I would carry water, I would sweep. I would take the children to school [and] they would beat me, they hit me.”
All of this was before being rescued by Limye Lavi, Free the Slaves partner organization in Haiti. Now, reunited with her mother, Cam-Suze recognizes that she “went through a lot of misery and it’s thanks to Limye Lavi that I’m here today, not doing that any more.” She goes on to say that now she’s happy because “I’ve been delivered from the misery and now I’m in school.”
And what would she say to those who helped bring her to freedom? “I would lift [them] up and carry them on my head to tell them ‘thank you for coming and getting me.’”
Looking forward, she says, “I’d like to do very well in school so I can help my mother and help other people who are going through that misery too.”
Want to be an abolitionist and rescue children like Cam-Suze? Visit The Freedom Education Project and join our campaign to free a village in India and provide CA public schools with books on slavery!
You change one person, you change the world.
This week marks the one-year anniversary of the devastating earthquake in Haiti. Free the Slaves has been part of the global humanitarian response, and caseworkers report they’ve reunited nearly 1000 children with their families. Many were in slavery, and others were at high risk of falling into slavery.
Under the entrenched restavèk system of slavery, poor families send a child to a wealthier home, hoping they’ll receive food and an education. In reality, most kids end up as household slaves.
After the earthquake, thousands of unaccompanied children roamed the streets. Our grassroots partners helped identify which children were actually restavèk slaves so they could be returned to their families. This helped prevent global aid agencies from mistaking these children as earthquake orphans, or returning them to their slaveholders.
This child protection team, formed in alliance with the group Beyond Borders, continues to advocate on behalf of child slaves. Nearly 120 case workers are still on the job. They’re training more than 100 community-level child rights groups to prevent more children from falling into slavery. Our team is also providing children with education.
Thanks to your continuing support, our efforts won’t stop now that a year has passed. In fact, we’re expanding. Smith Maximé has just joined the effort as our Port-au-Prince-based Haiti coordinator. “The earthquake increased the many problems faced by Haiti,” Smith says, “and the destruction of families could aggravate the restavèk problem. It’s not spoken of widely—the link between the earthquake and restavèk slavery, so our work is now even more important.”
- StoptheTraffik: Children found enslaved on Worcester, U.K. farm: “Following a police raid on a farm in Worcestershire last week, 7 Romanian children between the ages of 9 and 15 were found picking spring onions. These children were working daily from 7.30am until dusk, without food or water, in freezing weather dressed only in thin summer clothing.“…It’s much too early for the authorities to start back-patting one another though.There have been several occasions in the past where trafficked children, forced to beg and steal on the streets, have been ‘rescued’, reunited with parents, only to find themselves returned to slave labor shortly afterwards – trapped in a vicious cycle. Why? Because some parents may be complicit in the trafficking operation.”
- Miami Herald: Exclusive investigation: Guards cash in on smuggling Haitian children: “It took the young smuggler less than five minutes to ferry the children into the Dominican Republic, an easy, well-timed and completely illegal maneuver that repeats again and again on what is supposed to be the most surveilled border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic.’It’s a game,’ said Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive, readily acknowledging to The Herald that smuggling is an economic driver between both countries. ‘A lot of people are trafficking. They make money. Everyone along the frontier is benefiting. It’s the sole source of revenues. And everyone accepts it like that.’”
- AP: US official: Trafficking victims subject to detention and deportation: “growing numbers of countries are guilty of unfairly treating victims of human trafficking by detaining and deporting them at the first opportunity. Luis CdeBaca is Washington’s envoy on human trafficking issues. He says that while countries are increasingly signing on to conventions targeting human traffickers, the victims are subject to unfair treatment. Anti-trafficking activist Marika van Doorninck says that countries often use anti-trafficking policies to develop anti-migration laws.”