Restavèk

December 16, 2011
by 
François Gloutnay, Communications officer

The place where Father Miguel Jean Baptiste asks us to meet him doesn't exactly inspire complete confidence. There can be no doubt that this building was heavily damaged during the earthquake of January 12, 2010. From the street, we can see that the roof on the right side has been twisted and that there are stones missing.

But this is where the founding director of Foyer Maurice Sixto offers us refreshments and a bit of food. He seats us close to the door and gives us a warning: at the slightest noise, we have to get out of there! But there is no way he will let the children he takes care of come in here like they used to.

The hundreds of restavèks (literally, "stay-withs") that come to the Foyer Maurice Sixto are now going to class... in the playground! In Haiti, restavèks is what they call children from poor families who are given to strangers so that they will have a better life. The reality, however, is quite different for these 300,000 children, who mainly become domestic workers. They have no rights, they don't attend school, and they suffer abuses. "Their birthdays are not even celebrated and they don't get any presents at Christmas, unlike the children in the family where they work," explains Wénès Jeanty, Executive Director of Foyer Maurice Sixto.

Father Miguel has managed to succeed in making it so that 350 restavèks can at least attend school a few hours per day. The schooling is free for them and they get a meal every day. "But giving them food is not enough. We also have to change the structures," he said. So that these "children without a childhood" can regain their dignity.

And that is where Development and Peace comes in; it has committed funds ($292,000) to a construction project for a training centre that Father Miguel calls the "school of talents." The restavèks will have their classes there and will participate in activities that are normally prohibited to them (such as choir and learning a real trade), so that they will finally be able to "have a taste of the warmth of childhood."

Michael Casey, Executive Director of Development and Peace, the Most Reverend Paul-André Durocher and the Most Reverend Richard Smith, and Father Miguel Jean Baptiste, in front of the damaged premises of Foyer Maurice Sixto in Port-au-Prince.

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