In theory, the concept would appear justified.
In reality, it is a blatant cruelty, one that — by humanitarian values — rates as little more than child slavery. At its highest, it is a slight chance for a young girl to emerge into a better life. At its lowest, it is a form of child abuse that exceeds criminal action; at least, by the accepted practices of civilized society.
But in the Caribbean nation of Haiti, considered by most to be the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, the parents of an estimated 300,000 children believe such action to be their only option.
Here’s the idea. Desolate parents who lack the means to care for their children hand them over — mostly daughters, aged about 5 to 15 — to another household in the hope they’ll be given a better life.
According to documented reports, many of the children are forced more into a life of bondage. They are made to work, to cook, to clean, to haul water from distant wells and to serve the wishes of their host family without regard to their own needs. Many are beaten. Some are sexually abused.
Yet, because of Haiti’s dire economic straits it is a system that is accepted as an inevitable part of culture.
But churches, missionaries and various nonprofit organizations are standing up against the practice. One is a Cleveland-based group, the Restavek Freedom Foundation. Founded by Raymond and Joan Conn — a brother and sister-in-law to Lee University president Dr. Paul Conn — the foundation is working in Haiti to lead change.
As described in a front-page news account published in Monday’s edition of our newspaper, a Cleveland photographer — Tammy Rockwell who owns Pure Light Photography — has just returned from Haiti where she worked alongside Joan. She will return to Haiti in early 2014 to continue her work.
In the meantime, the civic-minded, professional photographer — whose personal mission is child advocacy — is working to raise funds, and most importantly public awareness, for and about the Restavek Freedom Foundation.
One outlet she is using comes Saturday. Calling it the “Run To End Restavek” 5K, Rockwell hopes to use this “Fun Run” to attract not only exercise enthusiasts but also those who share her love of children. Registration begins at 7:30 a.m. and the “Fun Run” gets underway at 8. It is a “trail run” that will be held at the site of the old Rolling Hills Golf Course on Candies Lane. The trail is commonly used by Cleveland Middle School students and the Lee University track team.
Registration fees are $25 for adults and $20 for students. Additional information is available by contacting Rockwell at 423-715-8892 or by email at tamrock74.gmail.com.
The tragedy of Restavek is not a Haitian dilemma that is new to outsiders. It has received national attention previously in reports by CNN, “60 Minutes,” CBC News, the Cincinnati Enquirer and World Magazine, among others.
Because Restavek is an established system within Haitian culture, humanitarian workers like Joan Conn recognize its turnaround can be achieved best through education, hands-on Christianity and opportunity.
In our newspaper’s interview with Rockwell, the photographer — who has mission experience in Asia and Africa as well — quoted Conn in pointing to RFF’s philosophy: “Haiti will rise when all Haitians are allowed to rise.”
Rockwell adds, “RFF is working to educate children and young people who may not be restaveks, but who could possibly have restaveks in their home because a lack of education is a big reason the system of Restavek remains. Many of the parents who give their children as restaveks lack education on everything from the importance of children to birth control.”
The Restavek Freedom Foundation has the backing of some good people: Lee University, Perry and Pam Stone, the North Cleveland Church of God Women’s Ministry and the Church of God Headquarters Women’s Discipleship Department.
Its progress may be methodic, but to change a culture is best done through education, personal involvement and an on-site presence.
This is the belief of those who support the Restavek Freedom Foundation. It also is the conviction of those who value every life — especially that of a young child.
We urge a strong community response to Saturday’s “Fun Run.”
It’s not about the exercise. And it’s not just the dollars. It’s a morning to hear the children of Haiti whose voices until now have gone unheard.