Coming Together to Stop Child Slavery in Haiti
We believe in the power of people and communities to improve their lives, often overcoming daunting challenges. The work of Groundswell and our partners is ultimately to invest in that power. Agroecological farming is a core strategy that allows rural families improve food production, income, organization and land regeneration. But as community organizations get stronger, they take on new challenges. We look for allies who can help.
That is how the farmer’s associations we work with decided to take on one of Haiti’s most agonizing challenges: child servitude, known as restavèk in the country. Many families are simply too poor to raise their children, and parents make the agonizing choice to turn over their children to others who may be able to better care for them. They hope for a better life, but the reality is often child servitude and abuse, with many children ending up on the streets. We joined forces with our friends at Beyond Borders https://beyondborders.net . They brought their educational strategy to strengthen community groups to end the process of restavèk, and we brought our experience with strengthening rural economies so that families are able to keep and raise their children. I asked Cantave Jean-Baptise of PDL in Haiti to reflect on the process so far:
Steve Brescia: Can you explain our collaboration with Beyond Borders to strengthen communities to promote child welfare and address the practice of restavèk?
Cantave Jean-Baptiste: For years, PDL and Beyond Borders have exchanged ideas and visited each other’s programs, identifying elements that could help us improve our approaches. We know that one organization cannot do everything. PDL had been thinking about including more education on human rights with farmers’ organizations, and Beyond Borders experience in this area looked appropriate – especially their focus on women and children. We strategized together to develop the child welfare education program with some of the rural communities and farmers associations we support over the last three to four years.
SB: What has been some of the progress you have seen so far?
CJB: Let me emphasize that this is an education program. It opens the eyes and the mind of people about an unacceptable situation that is undermining our society in this 21st century. Child slavery is a product of poverty and poor education. People give birth to children regardless their capacity to take care of them. As a result of the reflection sessions, many young adults are thinking about planning how many children they would like to have and to support. At the same time, couples are thinking about how to better organize themselves to not let their children suffer this tragic situation.
One of the unexpected results of this program is the formation of a new category of community leaders. Community members who are trained as facilitators, and the Child Protection Committees that have formed, are offering important services and support within their farmer organizations. So far, four peasant organizations have benefited from this program: Bailly (Bahon), Bouyaha (Saint Raphael), Savanette and La Belle Mère from Pignon.
SB: We know that poverty in rural communities drives the restavèk dynamic. Reducing poverty is the challenge. How does your work to promote agroecological farming and local economic activities address this?
CJB: As I mentioned earlier, poverty and poor education are key drivers of the restavèk dynamic. In terms of wider education, it is also important for other sectors like the media, the churches and the schools to participate. There too few organizations investing in this area.
In the PDL program areas, the support for improved agriculture production and other livelihoods activities are playing a key role in keeping children with their families. Individually, families can produce and earn more. Organizationally, Child Protection Committees are investing in economic activities like small livestock production like goats, and grain storage and sale, in order to earn income and increase community assets. Communities need to be able to sustain their children with their resources. Beyond Borders is learning from this strategy,and is trying to do the same in La Gonave. For PDL we know that education is important, but is not enough.
SB: Have you seen a real impact so far?
CJB: We are seeing important impacts. So far, 28 children have been brought back from restavèk and reunited with their families. This is very positive change for those children and families. But we also know some have gone back to restavèk. It is not easy to change this system, and we need to continue to closely follow up with families and communities to help them succeed. We need to continue to analyze how to strengthen our approaches to agroecological farming and economic activities to help them succeed.
There are other key results. New leaders are emerging within the farmers organizations, and the new Child Protection Committees have been formed. The people involved are diversifying their livelihoods strategies to generate more income. So far 1,620 people have benefited, from 42 different villages within the four peasant associations mentioned. 55 community facilitators have been trained to lead this work.
We think this important collaboration is generating important lessons for both PDL and Beyond Borders, and most important is helping to stop child slavery in these communities.
A community meeting takes place led by a PDL trainer. Community solidarity groups (gwoupman) discuss strategies to tackle issues like child servitude, ensuring the poorest members of their communities can benefit, improving farming and accessing potable water.