Learn More About LSM’s Home of Hope Solution to the Plight of Vulnerable Children in Southern Haiti
Being a child in any developing country is dangerous, especially in a historically exploited parts of the world like Haiti. A recent Knoema report states that the mortality rate for children under five years old is greater than seven percent. Those who live past five are likely to experience child labor and severe poverty.
The prevalence of child labor issues in Haiti qualifies the nation as one of the worst ten countries in the Americas on the Global Slavery Index with the highest percentage of its population (70 percent) being vulnerable to modern slavery. The most vulnerable population in Haiti are children in impoverished families, who are often sent to live with better-off families, for whom they are expected to perform heavy domestic labor. These child slaves, known as “restaveks” often experience physical, sexual, and verbal abuse at the hands of the families that acquire them. This often results in PTSD and other mental or behavioral challenges. Humanium reported in 2016 that there were between 150,000 and 500,000 restaveks in Haiti. Most restaveks come from rural families who send their children away in hopes of providing them with a better life. Sadly, most restaveks never receive the education, security, or care of a family that they are promised during negotiations. They are overworked no matter their age and are often deprived of sleep and food. A former restavek said in an interview with The International Labor Organization that restaveks are unseen. They often lack a birth certificate, and are not registered as citizens.
One former restavek and now founder of Restavek Freedom said, “It’s almost like you are disposable cloth. They use you, and they throw you away.”
A Climate of Poverty
What is the cause of the restavek problem? Simply put, Haiti’s severe and widespread poverty is the reason parents often believe giving their children to wealthy families is in their children’s best interest. Many Haitian children who have no family or whose families lack the means to care for them are also placed in orphanages. Orphanages often provide insufficient food and health care and are frequent perpetrators of abuse and neglect. It is estimated that nearly one million Haitian children live in these kinds of institutions. Historically, we’ve seen these abusive patterns result in recurring generational cycles.
Other Haitian children remain with their families, struggling to survive. Some of these children resort to eating mud cookies, or bonbon tè, due to the high price of food. Since 60% of Haitians live on less than two dollars a day, more than 4 million are thought to face “severe acute food insecurity.” If a child or a family member falls ill, there are few doctors in Haiti – and fewer mental health professionals. These factors put Haitian children at a statistically high risk for severe cases of diarrhea, typhoid fever, malaria, and dengue fever, as well as mental and behavioral disorders resulting from daily hardships in Haiti.
The Solution: Homes of Hope
Issues such as child labor and poverty require more than outside funding by international aid organizations. The best solution is a “grassroots” approach, as shown in Half the Sky, a book that addresses similar needs in other developing countries. A grassroots approach localizes efforts to create change by working with vulnerable people in and according to their own cultures. Organizations that use this approach often focus on empowering local community members to bring about generational change. Following this localized model, LSM’s Homes of Hope program provides vulnerable and/or orphaned Haitian youth with a nurturing family, trauma recovery, discipleship, spiritual through a local church, and service opportunities to help them and their community advance.
Vulnerable Haitian children are placed in Christian homes led by Haitian parents in order to provide them with financial and relational stability. Statistics show that having a stable family (biological or otherwise) has been shown beneficial for a child’s mental, physical, and spiritual wellbeing. Fostering stable families in places like Haiti is therefore a crucial part of addressing child labor and poverty. When we help our kids, we know future generations also benefit.
Homes of Hope also provide educational and personal growth opportunities that empower our Haitian kids as they pave the way to a brighter future. Lessons focus on critical thinking, discipleship, and problem solving. We also emphasize cultural signals of leadership, including music and public speaking. These children, once victims of poverty and exploitation, are being empowered to transform their communities for Christ. The Canadian government found that education enabled youth in exploited countries to reduce poverty and even promote economic growth, something that is desperately needed in Haiti. In addition to providing primary education, LSM has established a technical institute and businesses in Haiti so every child has an opportunity to succeed.
In his book, The Body Keeps Score, Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D., writes, “Study after study shows that having a good support network constitutes the single most powerful protection against becoming traumatized.” Extensive research indicates that trauma-informed care creates that essential support system. LSM therefore believes in providing trauma resources, which educate parents through seminars about their own trauma as well as that of their children. This type of education enables the parents to effectively care for themselves and their Home of Hope children, creating the needed social support network. LSM also provides our children with a psychologist, a social worker, and child development staff, all of which meet with our kids individually. This kind of trauma-based therapy has proven effective in a study among restaveks. The study also notes that spiritual support tends to have a positive effect in trauma recovery.
The goal of LSM’s Homes of Hope is to empower vulnerable children to reach their full, God-given potential. Learn more by visiting our Homes of Hope page.