Dignity! An Invitation from Children who are Haitian Domestic Servants
Written by Félix Ortiz-Cotto
April 1, 2013
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The children of the chorus were very anxiously waiting for the presentation they were to give. They were in a room behind the small auditorium where children, teachers, staff and international visitors were sitting ready to listen. When the time came, they entered the stage and began to sing. The room filled with the beautiful voices of twenty eight girls and boys, ages 8 to 14, who sang with their hearts. They sang about the rich story of their count—the only slave revolt in history that successfully ended more than three hundred years of slavery. They sang about their personal stories of being forced to leave their homes and move to other houses to work as domestic servants in exchange for room and board and the remote possibility of improving their lives. Not only did they sing about their pain, but also about their commitment, in spite of their youth, to struggle for a better life and a better world where love, solidarity and justice prevail. The children sang with a deep sense of dignity.
There are at least 300,000 children in Port-au-Prince, Haiti who live as rest avec—French for “staying with.” Parents hoping for a better future for their children make the hard decision to send their children to stay with relatives, friends or anyone who can provide a better opportunity in the capital city. With a per capita income of $100 a year in rural areas, the goal of these parents seek to move their children out of the extreme poverty of their environment.
But this is a very hard life for children who must do domestic chores such as carrying five-gallon containers of water, collecting wood for stoves, and sweeping, cleaning, and ironing. They begin work at dawn and finish at night. Because they are paid with room and board, there is a sense of diminished self-esteem. Often they must suffer physical and emotional abuse.
The children singing are participants in the programs of House of Hope, the outreach ministry of the Ecumenical Foundation for Peace and Justice, an ecumenical organization in partnership with Wider Church Ministries/Global Ministries. House of Hope, using the educational approaches of Paulo Freire and liberation theology, provides a holistic and fundamental approach to the complex situation of rest avec. The children spend five hours daily, Monday through Friday, learning how to read and write. They also receive vocational training in computer, electricity, small business administration, masonry, plumbing, cosmetology, and cooking, and they may participate in an accelerated high school diploma program. They have the opportunity to affirm their self-esteem, human rights, and personal history, and they begin to understand the root causes of poverty. Their education will help them build a life of love, solidarity and justice. They begin to regain their sense of dignity.
Through their liberating songs, the children of House of Hope invite us to reaffirm our own sense of dignity, by recognizing that we are all bound by a quest for love and justice, and we are all worthy of dignity!
The United Church of Christ has 5,194 churches throughout the United States. Rooted in the Christian traditions of congregational governance and covenantal relationships, each UCC setting speaks only for itself and not on behalf of every UCC congregation. UCC members and churches are free to differ on important social issues, even as the UCC remains principally committed to unity in the midst of our diversity.
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