Restavek: 25 Questions with a former child slave

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“Restavek is a form of modern-day slavery that persists in Haiti as well in some parts of the Dominican Republic, affecting one in every 15 children. Typically born into poor rural families, restavek children are often given to relatives or strangers. In their new homes, they become domestic slaves, performing menial tasks for no pay.”

We enjoy many things in the United States and today. Being Independence Day, it is a perfect time to reflect on how to help others who don’t share the freedom the US enjoys. Tonight, while your watching the fireworks and enjoying your food please remember those who do not enjoy the same blessings as you do. I have been inspired by Gifts of Grace and their mission to prevent child trafficking in the Dominican Republic as well as provide an education to those children who can’t attain it themselves! It is because of this organization and my experience with its Founder Tyler Schwab that I have decided to do this interview. This was not an easy time in my life to revisit, however if it helps inspire others to support organizations like Gifts of Grace then it was worth all the pain and the tears. I have asked Gifts of Grace to keep this blog anonymous because I go to Haiti quite a bit and fear for my security. However, if you’d like more info please contact them and they will give you my information.


Questions in white

Answers in red

1. Q: Can you explain to us what is a “restavek”?

A restavek is a person who has lost his/her parents. They are usually children or teenagers. They live on the street, have no one to care for them and are usually looking for food in the garbage. They often begin their orphan status by living with family members. Often times it’s better for a restavek to live on the street than with their family members/owners. Family members can be the worst enemies of a restavek becasue they are forced to work very hard for the family, often getting up at 4AM and going to bed at 11PM. They don’t eat well and often are without shoes and wear very dirty clothes.

2. How did you first become an restavek. I first became a restavek when my parents died and there was no one else to take care of me. My only options were to live on the streets or find an aunt or uncle to live with. I have 9 brothers and sisters and they were all adopted to other families before my parents died. I was the only one living with my family. When your parents die in Haiti you have zero value. You are treated worse than an animal. My aunt was my owner.

3. How long were you a restavek? I was a restavek for 10 years.

4. If you were sold, how much were you sold for? It all depends, buyers usually offer food, to get you in school, buy shoes or clothes or even just to give you a place to sleep.

5. What does the life of a restavek look like if you’re a boy? I never knew a restavek that was happy. Honestly, I would pass the day crying and pleading with God that He would preform a miracle. My daily life was very hard work. I would go to the fields and find food for the owners children to eat. I would care for the animals and await my next order while the rest of the family lived like kings and queens.

6. What does it entail if you’re a little girl? The gender doesn’t matter. A restavek is a restavek. They get the same physical abuse as a boy would. However, the life is worse for girls because when they grow they are raped by their masters and often bear their masters children.

7. How did your owners treat you? Were you ever physically abused? What was your punishment like? It was extremely difficult. I never went to school and I never used shoes. When I disobeyed, my captors would tie me to a mango tree and whip me without clothes like a slave. After my skin is bleeding, they would bathe me in alcohol. More often than not they made me sleep outside.

8. Were you ever a victim of sexual abuse? I never was. But I knew a young girl who lived with me who was raped and gave birth to 5 children in her time as a restavek. Their father was her master.

9. Where was your family during all this? Most pre restaveks live with aunt or uncles or other family members. When you’re not the favorite of your grandparent you usually end up a restavek and suffer a lot. As I said before my brothers and sisters were living with other people. They thought I was dead and had no idea what was going on.

10. What were your living conditions like? Worse than you can imagine. Bad food. I was always hungry. They wouldn’t let me go to school or talk to anyone for the fear that I would become education and learn how to read. They were afraid I would come back educated and try to frame them for what they did to me. The other children who were luckier than I was would call me names. They would mock me and the fact that my parents were dead and told me I should die too. My cousins said the same thing.

11. Tell us something about another restavek you know? As I said earlier, a restavek is a restavek. They do the same work and suffer the same abuse. Some are adopted by Christians and they live a better life, and others are able to escape.

12. Did you ever try to escape? No I did not. My brother came for me. They did not want me to leave but he called the police and explained my issue to them and they let me go. I was very afraid and lived very far away.

13. How did you keep/maintain your faith during this time of your life? My mother taught me to pray ever since I was little. I had hope that one day I would be happy. I always prayed for a solution.

14. How could have your slavery been avoided? I think it could have been avoided if there was an organization that seeks out restaveks and takes care of their needs that allows them to be successful. (school, family, etc.) If there were people in the world like you and your organization, who want to prevent this evil, my life would have been better. If there were laws that were enforced to project us(restaveks) my life would have been different.

15. What was your mindset like when you were a restevek? I always told my owners than I would grow up one day and I would be happy. I told them my life WOULD NOT end as a slave. I tried to keep a happy perspective. I knew that sooner or later that happiness would come.

16. Tell us about slavery in Haiti and the Dominican Republic?

There are labor slaves in the Dominican Republic. In Barahona today there are many that work in the rice fields. These slaves, many of whom are Hatian are not allowed to leave said fields. Some children are born and die there. Many have not seen the outside world.

17. What would you tell Americans who don’t believe that something like this is going on?

I would tell them to go to Haiti so they can see it for themselves. Also I would add PLEASE SUPPORT THESE ORGANZATIONS THAT SEEK TO PREVENT, RESCUE, OR HEAL THESE CHILDREN THAT FIGHT THIS EVIL! There are organizations that do great good in working with these kids. There are many ways to serve. So many ways to serve! If you cannot go to Haiti or the Dominican Republic, please give to the organizations who are authorized to give aid to these kids.

18. How did you escape this life as a restavek?

I escaped when my older brother traveled all over the country to find me. He spoke with my grandparents who knew where I was and sent my cousin to lead him to me. They lead me into the Dominican Republic. At the time, leaving Haiti and going into the Dominican Republic was like going to the United States or Canada.

19. What can we do to help those in the same situation as you were in?

o where they are because they are everywhere in the country. Create projects to support them or support organizations like Gifts of Grace that seek to prevent this kind of exploitation. The one thing I wanted as a restavek is good food! Food is essential for them. Please support organizations that help kids. Whether it be allowing them to learn, eat, play and especially go to school!

20. How did you move on from this experience in your life?

I tired to stay positive. I knew that an education meant a way out and success in life. After I got to the DR, I went to school. I finished high school with the best grades and went on to college and got two degrees. One in marketing with an emphasis in customer service and one in modern languages. That was my exit.