Carina, like many other children in Haiti, became a Restavèk worker. Restavèk is a traditional system in which Haitian children from homes suffering economic and social difficulties are sent by parents to live with other families and work for them as domestic servants. There is a perception that the child will be enrolled in school by the host household and treated like one of the family, but often the reality is completely different. For many children, the day is filled with work. As Carina describes, even the youngest are expected to fetch heavy buckets of water, hand-wash clothes, carry loads to and from the marketplace, and work in the fields—often laboring for 14 hours a day for no pay. Carina’s story suggests that a model of community education and resistance against the Restavèk system has been effective at freeing children and returning them home.
My name is Carina Louis. I am eleven years old. I live in Carrefour-Sainte, a small town of Mont Ramier. My mom has a serious psychological problem. Often she loses touch with us, her children, and the community. Sometimes she has a disoriented sense of her surroundings, and an inability to control her actions. You could say she has a mental disorder.
I am the third in a family of five children. Magalie is a friend of my family and she knows the economic and social reality of my family. Because she knows everything about me, she decided to ask my family to let me go with her to Port au Prince to help me. However, despite the fact that I was just a little girl that did not stop her from making me responsible for doing difficult work at home such as cleaning the dishes, fetching water, and throwing away rubbish. I slept on the floor on a scrap of cloth. I was given things to eat, but I was malnourished because I was not eating well, and it was the only way for me to survive. I was far away from my family and when I did not want to do something, they threatened they would send me back to my mother. When they threatened this, I had a really bad feeling, because I also knew that there were still problems with my mother.
Even though I was the one to fetch water to the house, I did not even have access to this water to take my own bath. Going to school was only a dream, because I had no access to school like all the other children of the house. The lady and her children would hit me whenever they wanted. They often told me I was the daughter of a crazy woman and that hurt me.
One day my grandmother came to retrieve me. That day, I was so happy, I even cried with joy. It was like rain during the dry season for me. When I asked my grandmother why she came for me, she replied that she received training on children’s rights through [the child rights module] introduced by FTS frontline partner, Limye Lavi.
I thank the people who took the initiative to set up this training on children’s rights to make our parents know and respect our rights. Thank you for the light you have brought into the community. When I'm a big girl I'd love to be a nurse to help bring my health care skills to the community and help my family to live better.
Narrative as told to Free the Slaves.