I’ve always had a heart for children. Can you relate? So it was a privilege this morning to talk with Natalie Hagan, special events and exhibit coordinator, and Emily Iddings, graphic artist, with Restavek Freedom Foundation.
“Our mission is to end child slavery in Haiti in our lifetime,” said Emily. “Right now we are trying to get the word out in the U.S. about restaveks.”
She went on to explain to me that “restavek” is a French word meaning “to stay with,” and it is used to dehumanize the children many urban Haitian families keep as household slaves. I was stunned when Emily told me that an estimated 300,000 children currently live as restaveks.
“Poor rural families who can’t feed all of their children send some to the city in the hopes that they will be fed and educated in exchange for light household chores,” said Emily. “But usually, these children become domestic slaves with no education, little food, and no affection.”
I was shocked to learn of this practice, but Natalie explained that there’s a grassroots plan in place to save these children.
“We advocate for children by sponsoring them to go to school and connecting them with a caring adult who serves in a role similar to a social worker,” she said. “We also try to Influence families who have resteveks, as well as mobilize the religious community in Haiti, so that adults understand what the Bible says about the treatment of children.”
Restavek Freedom Foundation also has a small transitional home in Port au Prince, Haiti, for a handful of girls who have experienced some of the most severe cases of abuse and sexual assault during their enslavement.
Emily, Natalie, and I discussed the idea that knowledge is power—and responsibility. Knowing about this terrible situation means now we can’t simply ignore it.
“Our church went on a mission trip to Haiti, and once we got back to the states we got really involved with the organization,” said Natalie. “You can’t turn a blind eye to any injustice that’s happening. If you know, you have to take action.”
I was so excited to find out there is something we can do! After talking with Emily and Natalie, I spent some time on their website, where it’s easy to sign up to sponsor a child. Other options are selling Handmade in Haiti jewelry, buying a t-shirt, hosting an exhibit, or holding a fundraiser.
“I always wanted to work for a social justice cause, and the fact that I’m getting to use the gifts God gave me for something bigger than myself is awesome,” said Emily.
I'm so glad I met Emily and Natalie, and that they helped me learn about the problem of resteveks-- and the solution. Will you be part of the solution too?