The first time I traveled to Haiti in December of 2008, I came to the realization that this world is a lot bigger and a lot more “real” than I had ever imagined. Earlier that year, I had struggled with the thought of beginning my Senior Graduation Project. I had no idea how to decide what subject to research or even how to go about doing it. My Dad, who had been to Haiti twice before, suggested that I research something that would allow us to travel there. After a bit of thought I decided to research child slavery, travel to Haiti and interview a child slave or “restavec” for my project.
As the Western Hemisphere’s poorest and most dangerous country, Haiti is not an easy place to travel to. In order to spend a period of three days in this completely different culture and lifestyle, my Dad and I had to plan for weeks, setting up dates, appointments, and overnight stays in the St. Joseph orphanages. For about $50 a night, visitors can stay at one of the three St. Joseph orphanages. The orphanage in the capitol of Port-Au-Prince is mainly for former street-children. They have formed a traditional Haitian dance troupe and have even performed for the Pope. St. Joseph’s supports itself by donations, the visitors and the occasional dance tour in the United States or Canada.
After a day of playing with the children in the orphanage, my real journey began. Bill Nathan, a former Haitian child slave, and I embarked on our trip to a tiny village on the outskirts of this monstrous trash-ridden city. As we traveled to our destination, we witnessed a thorough view of the Haitian society and life. Hundreds of people could be seen walking down the streets, most with no job or education. Along with the adults, children could be seen playing barefoot in the streets with toys they created out of old jugs or empty boxes. The street scene took me aback. I had never seen anything that could be considered remotely similar to the poverty found in Haiti.
When we arrived in the small destitute village, all motion ceased. For many of the Haitians living here, it was probably the first time they had seen a real “blanc” or white person. As we slowly drove through, we could feel dozens of people staring at us, not in a hostile way, but more in a curious, “Will you help us?” kind of way.
Finally we made it to the residence of the restavec that I was to interview. The house was a fairly nice house by Haitian standards. The master brought out his nicest chairs, still covered in the plastic that they came in and then introduced his slave, Famela. The sight of her was heartbreaking. After a quick glance, you could tell she had no hope. One of her wrists had been broken from “carrying water”. Her eyes told the real story. The interview was an experience I will never forget.
My experience was life-changing. The realization that this atrocity is found a mere one and a half hour flight from Miami was shocking. After returning, I value everything I have significantly more than I did before. I value the small things such as food, clean water and a bed to sleep on. I value the chance I have to obtain an education and learn about the world and its people. Visiting Haiti and meeting a restavec has changed my outlook on my life and has left me with a sense of restlessness.
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