Saving Children from Slavery

The Creole term restavek translates to mean “stay with”, but the reality of the term in Haiti is much bleaker than that. Children aged 5-17 are sent to stay with families in urban areas to trade room, board and an education for assistance with household chores. Rarely is that what happens, these young children become solely responsible for the cooking, cleaning, shopping and child care for a family that is not theirs. They often are not fed, do not have a place to sleep and are routinely beaten. In short, a restavek is a child slave.

Restaveks typically come from rural families with many children who struggle to care for, feed, or educate their children. The child could be sent to an unknown family through a broker, or to another family member, or could even become a restavek in his own home. For example, if the child’s parent remarries and has new children, it is not uncommon for the original child to be treated as a restavek. Whichever family situation it is, these children live a life most people aren’t aware still exists in the 21st Century.

According to a report issued by Pan American Development Foundation (PADF) in 2009, there is an estimated 225,000 children living as restaveks in Haiti, working 10 to 14 hours a day. 30% of the 1500 households surveyed had a restavek child living with them and 22% of all children surveyed were treated as servants. Although the 2009 report for PADF was thorough, the undisclosed nature of this practice means there were significantly more restaveks than the study indicated. This study was also done prior to the earthquake of January 12th, 2010. The economy in Haiti since the earthquake has been very difficult for families in every region. It can be surmised that in the post earthquake economy, more families have been unable to care for their children and often sending the child for servitude is the only option.

In his 1998 memoir, Restavec: From Haitian Slave Child to Middle-Class American, Jean-Robert Cadet tells his own story and explains, “In Haitian Society, [being a restavek is] the lowest possible status. It’s like being a dog. And no one wants to reveal that he once was a dog.” The secrecy and shame Mr. Cadet speaks of leaves the subject tragically hidden behind closed doors. The shame and the fear these children feel every day leave many unwilling to tell their story. They are scared they will be returned to their nightmarish conditions or that if returned to their families they will not be wanted.

At the Fr. Wasson Angels of Light home (FWAL) we have several children we suspect were restaveks prior to arriving into our care. Here is story of one particular child. Although she never used the term restavek, during her time at FWAL, she has been able to share glimpses of her life that have painted a clear picture of her past. Due to the extremely sensitive nature of her situation, her name and image cannot be shared. For this story we call her “Anna”.

FWAL was first notified about Anna because she was left unconscious at the St. Luke hospital after malnutrition caused her to have repeated fainting episodes and she often hit her head. After recovery, Anna came into FWAL’s care and as she grew more comfortable and trusting of her caregivers, she spoke a bit about her past and her responsibilities in her previous homes. She spoke of living with a few different families and always referred to the matron of the house as her aunt. Anna cooked and cleaned for these families and cared for their children but she was not cared for at all. She was not allowed to go to school. If she was fed that day or allowed to sleep inside, depended on the mood of her “aunt”. We believe Anna lived in these conditions with three different families over the course of three years.

Anna has been at FWAL for a few years and she is now in good health and has adapted to life. Because of the instability she endured and the mental and possible physical abuse she suffered over the years, it took her a long time to understand that FWAL would be a safe haven. Upon arrival she continued to seek her approval through chores. Accepting that the love, food, shelter and support would be unconditional, was a hard lesson to process. Anna challenged the caregivers to find the proof of what she thought she knew, that she would eventually be turned out to the street or to another hurtful family.

When Anna finally believed the unconditional aspect of the love given to her, the food and shelter provided and all the other aspects of belonging to the NPH family, she began to settle and soon flourished. She is still working through some of the psychological effects of her years as a child servant, but she has accepted FWAL as her home. She works hard at school and loves her after school dance classes. She is a mature young lady, has made new friends and enjoys caring for and mentoring the younger girls.

We have seen great progress from Anna and we are looking forward to seeing her continued growth.

Contributed by Shana Van Valkenburg
Communications Manager

Helping your brother and sisters was part of Fr. Wasson’s philosophy. Here are some examples of how our children lend a hand.

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Having a Blast at Camp

 

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The children attending our summer camp at both Angels of Light Kinder and Primary school have wrapped up their six week programs on August 21st. They spent the summer playing, singing and learning and it’s been a great time!

Campers include the children who stayed at FWAL over the summer and some students from the neighboring areas who attend the Angels of Light School during the school year. It is a wonderful opportunity to learn, experience, play and receive a meal each day, which is very important especially for the neighborhood children. Gesner Lamy, the Camp D’ete Coordinator notes, “It is important for the children to continue to learn in the vacation environment because they need to play and relax as well as learn.”

The older children at the primary school start their day with spirited songs – sometimes a competition between boys and girls to see which group has more energy that morning. It is an activity that lets the whole neighborhood know kids having fun here!! After morning songs and prayers, the kids attend classes by interest such as paper mâchè, English conversation, Spanish conversation, dance, drumming, sewing, crochet, craft making, wood working, painting, computer technology and plumbing.

Every day campers also spend time with their own age group to talk about questions posed based on principles established by Father Wasson in 1954 with the opening of the 1st NPH home; unconditional love, security, sharing, responsibility and work. The groups discuss mutual respect, cooperation, love, joy, tolerance and God. The children offer ideas and suggestions about how these principles are a part of their lives, why they are important and what can done to nurture that aspect of life.

At the kinder school, the children are split into classes by age and often draw, sing songs, dance, and have lots of arts and crafts projects! As a school there will often be big dance competitions, musical chairs and jump rope. Everyone always enjoys free time as well, where they can take a soccer ball out to the field to kick around, or teach some friends a new dance routine.

On August 21st, all the children joined together for a big end of summer celebration. During the ceremony the fruits of everyone’s labor was displayed. Several groups performed dances, accompanied by our talented drum team. The sewing and crochet classes held a lively fashion show to showcase the beautiful skirts, dresses and hats they made. A newly formed band played, children showed off their new English and Spanish skills with conversations and dialogues and the kinder camp performed poems and speeches.

Now that summer camp has ended it is time to start preparing for the school year! How time flies!!

Contributed by Shana Van Valkenburg
Communications Manager

 

Celebrating Fr. Wasson’s Life

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On Saturday August 16th, all the NPH Homes and offices around the globe celebrated Father Wasson’s eighth anniversary of eternal life. At FWAL, we took the morning to celebrate all that Father Wasson believed in and left us in his legacy, especially the support and encouragement he provided and inspired in all the children within the NPH/NPFS Family.

At the St. Anne Baby House, children, staff, caregivers and visitors gathered in front of a beautiful painting of Father Wasson and a celebratory flower arrangement. Met Philippe, FWAL Program Supervisor, started the day with discussions about Father Wasson and the story of how he started NPH in Mexico in 1954. Proud hands were raised to share what they knew about Father’s main principles of love, security, responsibility, work and sharing.

After prayers and beautiful songs, Kenson Kaas, FWAL Director, asked all those in attendance who had grown up at the St. Helene home in Kenscoff to join him in the front of the room. Kenson spoke to the children of FWAL about what it means to be a part of the NPH family. The grand frères and grand soeurs (big brothers and sisters) learned from Father Wasson’s teachings that unconditional love, community and education are important, and these are some of the lessons that brought them back to help raise the next generation of NPH children. Kenson told the children, “The lessons we learned at NPH and from Father Wasson – to work hard, to share, to take responsibility – have gotten us where we are today.”

The children were asked to think about what they have being a part of the NPH family, how those things represent Father Wasson’s principles and what they could do to continue that good lesson. Examples were given to think about, such as working hard in school, helping a friend who is struggling, listening to your teachers and caregivers, and taking good care of the belongings you have.

Alfonso Leon, the founder of Father Wasson’s Angels of Light Program named it as such because today’s children represent our hope for the future. The FWAL program itself is a wonderful testimony to Father Wasson’s ideals and Alfonso’s hope for the future because a majority of the staff, mets, and madams grew up in NPH and now, they are helping a new generation of children grow and learn from Father Wasson and the wonderful work of his NPH organization.

Contributed by Shana Van Valkenburg
Communications Manager

A Day to Celebrate

A wedding day is a very special day, a day to celebrate surrounded by loved ones and a day to start a whole new chapter of your life. On Saturday August 9th, grand frère (big brother) Kenson Kaas and grand soeur (big sister) Daphnee St. Vil, started that new chapter together when they married. The couple has known each other since their days growing up together at the NPH Haiti home, St. Helene in Kenscoff and began dating seven years ago.  They have both remained active in the NPH Family. Kenson is the director of the NPH Haiti Father Wasson’s Angels of Light Program (FWAL) and Daphnee works at the outpatient maternity clinic at the NPH Haiti St. Damien Pediatric Hospital.

The couple chose a beautiful afternoon for a wedding. The outdoor portion of the St. Philomene chapel at St. Damien was decorated beautifully with large flower arrangements, including a big floral arch over a long red carpet, which made for a lovely arrival processional. The bridal party included an adorable Fredo* and Irmonde* from the St. Anne Baby house as ring bearer and flower girl.

The chapel was packed with friends of the couple, brothers and sisters from NPH, co-workers and children from the FWAL Program, all dressed in their Sunday best and ready to celebrate.  Esther Desir and the choir led the congregation in a number of songs. The ceremony, preformed by Father Rick Frechette, National Director of NPH Haiti and Father Phito, who have known the couple since childhood, was very touching.

After the ceremony, everyone headed over to the FWAL school where a big reception was planned. Like all great receptions, guests ate plentifully, danced merrily and were treated to a great slide show featuring moments in Kenson and Daphnee’s lives.

Weddings are always a great day to celebrate a couple and this was no exception. Kenson and Daphnee and their love were celebrated joyously.

We wish them a beautiful and happy life together!

Contributed by Shana Van Valkenburg
Communications Manager

Fun With Pipe Cleaners

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You never know where children will be inspired to find joy, as many of us have learned when we bought a young loved one a fancy gift only to discover they found more pleasure from the box or the wrapping paper. It’s no new story to tell that kids don’t need a lot to be entertained thoroughly! We experienced this first hand the other day at the Kay St. Anne when two volunteers from Spain brought out a box of decorative pipe cleaners. The younger kids of our FWAL Program each picked a few of their favorite colors and the creations began. It was a great sight to see their imaginations flow as they began to make flowers, necklaces, bracelets, and the biggest hit of the day – brightly colored pipe cleaner glasses.

Soon, with the assistance of the volunteers and the Madams, who provide live in care, the kids had their own pair of pipe cleaner glasses. They were thrilled! Each child expressed themselves through color choices and adding extra bits for flair. As the older kids finished up their pair, you were sure to find them helping their younger brothers and sisters accomplish what they wanted as well.

Just like the child playing with the box while an expensive gift sits untouched, these are the days that remind you, you don’t need to have a lot to give to bring a smile to a child’s face.

Contributed by Shana Van Valkenburg
Communications Manager

 

Cheerful Toddler Alfonso!

Alfonso* joined the NPH/FWAL family in July of 2012. The staff at NPH’s St. Helene Orphanage in Kenscoff, found him abandoned at their front gate that summer. Since there was no note left with him, an investigation was done to track down his family; unfortunately, it was not successful.

St. Helene is not equipped to take in children younger than three years old, so FWAL was contacted to see if Alfonso could be integrated with the youngest children of FWAL at the St. Anne Baby House, which cares for children up to seven years of age.  At St. Anne, Alfonso joined a family of 40 children who eat, sleep, play and learn together. Alfonso was named after the FWAL founder, Alfonso Leon.

Over the past two years, Alfonso has grown into quite the expressive character amongst the babies at Kay St. Anne. Alfonso is a cheerful toddler with a great sense of curiosity, an infectious smile and a big appetite. He is very active and enjoys playing with the scooters and romping with the other children in the ball pit in the St. Anne playroom.

According to Marie Ange, the coordinator of Kay St. Anne, Alfonso loves hugs, kisses and cuddling with his caregivers.  She also notes, “He is very intelligent and he learned to speak at one year.”

Since FWAL’s primary purpose is to support our children until they are able to be reunited with their family, Alfonso will move to St. Helene Orphanage in Kenscoff when he is a little older.

It has been a pleasure to watch this little baby turn into the adventurous toddler that he is now and we are looking forward to see him continue to grow into a young man.

Contributed by Shana Van Valkenburg
Communications Manager