Friday afternoon we saw Haiti. Not from the comfort of car or the beauty of a mountaintop. We started on the roof top of Vijonet’s Church. We stood on top of this building of faith and worship and he starting sharing about the homes around us. “See that home right there? They have a restavek child. We hear her beating the girl all the time. We hear the girl begging for forgiveness. We do not know how to get to the girl. We want to take her, but she is protected and we cannot. If we can get to her, we can help her.” I started at the two windows of the home just yards away with the knowledge that there is a child in there who is treated like an animal. Who is afraid of every breath she takes. A child who has nothing to live for and every day is survival. A child who can hear the world around her, but not participate.
If that was not enough, we walked to the edge of the roof and looked down on the roof directly below us. So close we could have jumped onto it. Vigonet explained this family had three Restavek children. 2 of them had grown and left, the 3rd was sent away. The family practiced voodoo and tried to sacrifice her to Satan, but it did not work because she had a strong faith, so the demon instead entered the family’s biological daughter. They had to send the Restavek child away in order to “heal” their daughter.
We circled to roof and Vigonet pointed to almost every house we could see and said “Restavek, Restavek, Restavek…” Over and over he said it. He pointed farther. He repeated. He said “You see this is a problem for Haiti”. We saw. Boy did we see. Windows and rooftops, narrow alleys and winding streets and the ghosts of these slaves were everywhere in the hot and quiet afternoon.
But that was not enough. We then drove to one of the slums. Vionet wanted us to meet some of the children his church works with. He is hoping to implement a sponsorship program so more children can be involved and not that he works for Bethany he has more resources for services. The women he wanted us to meet have taken in children who do not have families, we call them OVC’s (Orphans and Vulnerable Children). Many of these children lost parents in the earthquake and were taken in by other families out of love and with the support of the church. Children who would have become Restaveks, or homeless, or sick, or died.
We turned town a very narrow path I would not have noticed on my own. It was cement and very steep. The path wound through the slum and was barely wide enough for one person. The slum contained thousands of 1 room homes packed with people. The “homes” typically did not have a window and the door was often a curtain. The few I was able to peek in had room for a bed or two. End of story. Children were walking around aimlessly, women were washing clothes in small buckets. Flies and Mosquitoes were everywhere. It was hard to take a step without slipping. Occasionally we had to hold onto the walls for balance. You could not see anything but the few feet around you.
It was so big and so full of winding paths that I would have gotten lost. It would have been easy to walk around this slum for hours and still not see all of it. There was no room and people were literally living on top of each other. We were invited into two homes. The first home there was a plastic chair that was occupied but someone we never were introduced to. There 3 beds, 2 visible and one behind a curtain. A cat wandered through. They had a small shelf with all their cooking supplies. No sink or stove. I think there was a light bulb on the wall, but I am not sure if there was electricity.
The second home was very similar. Instead of being a square it was a long rectangle with a beds starting in the front and moving back. I think there were three. An adult male was laying on one playing on some sort of electronic device and did not look up when we were invited in. The women had 8 biological child as well as caring for an OVC.
She was also sick with “The Fever”. This was a hot topic in Haiti the week we were there. Everyone was getting it and it kept you down for days. It attacks a person’s bones and muscles so they are in constant pain. It is spread by mosquitoes and in the slum people live so close that the mosquitoes transport it easily. It seemed everyone there had it. We were told many babies died from it.
The experience of this slum cannot be done justice with words or pictures. You have to feel the hot still air. You have to smell the sewage and the charcoal cooking. You have to see the empty eyes of the children looking through their barred windows. The dirt on the people, the ill-fitting, falling apart, dirty clothing. The sores on people’s body. Just the act of trying to walk took all of your energy because of the steepness and destruction of the paths. There were smiles and there was conversation, but in this context I still felt broken. Vigonet kept saying “These children are so vulnerable. There is so much sexual abuse. There is no way for a girl to be safe here”.
And this is the place we have found that will also help children. Not the house that you can look out the window and see the mountains and the ocean. Those houses keep child slaves.
I don’t have an ending for this post. I don’t have encouraging words or a passionate statement of revolution because I just need to sit with this knowledge for a while. I need to keep that window in my mind knowing I looking into a home of Restavek child who is likely being beaten as I write this. I need to feel the oppressive muggy heat of the slum. The claustrophobia of someone else’s life in a slum. The knowledge of no opportunity for school and learning. No possible way to have hope or dream for a future. The unfocused empty eyes of these lives.