Saturday, October 6, 2012

Restavec - A Loaded Word

We  blog quite a bit about the day to day life of our family.  That is so much easier than trying to express in words some of the misery we are encountering here in Haiti.  Before coming to Haiti I knew full well about the abandonment of children that abounds in Haitian culture.  But seeing it first hand is so hard.  So complicating, so multi-dimensional, and ultimately so heartbreaking.

Restavec is a French word, I believe, that literally means "to live with".  In Haiti children who are sent away from their family to live with another family are called restavecs.  Restavecs abound in Haiti, from the rural mountainside, to the suburban areas, to Port au Prince.  Some people regard the restavec phenomenon in Haiti to be modern day slavery.  Some people regard it as benevolent foster care.  The truth probably is both.  Each situation is unique, many awful, many not so awful, but all heartbreaking.

Over the past 11 years of my travels to Haiti I have become friends with a woman in a rural mountainside village.  I love her and her family deeply.  She has 8 children and her family lives on much less than $1/day.  11 years ago it was clear to me that she was feeding her second born son a larger portion than the other children as he showed the most potential for normal growth, intelligence, and possibly making it through school and out of the rural area.  He's 14, bright, energetic, and full of life.  A few months ago the family sent him away from their mountain home to live in a nearby city center with a different family.  The family houses, feeds, and pays the school fees of this youth.  In return he is expected to do all of the cooking, cleaning, and chores for the family.  He is a restavec, he cries for home regularly, his misses his 7 siblings and his parents.  He attends school, he eats, and he has shelter.

7 years ago, he is on the left

7 years ago, in the purple sweater on the chair

I lie awake thinking of him often.  I wonder what I would do if I were in his mother's position.  I will never know because I will never face anything like that, ever.  Modern day child slavery abounds in Haiti.  Is this an example of child slavery?  I have no answers.


  1. I totally agree with you that restavek is a spectrum. Sometimes it really is foster care and it's not so bad. However, sometimes it truly is slavery. Such a hard topic, but then again, everything in Haiti is hard, isn't it?

  2. From the other Thompson's in Haiti... Wow, do I hear you on this! There is a whole spectrum of restavek. I believe at it's core, there is an indentured servant idea. Even if there is love and nurturing, there still seems to always have the work element. It seems to break the family unit as well. But always, I realize that I am bringing my American culture to this. Tough, tough, tough. God give us wisdom...