Latin America / Caribbean

“There are as many as 450,000 children living as “restavéks”.

Photo: CWS

“Happy to be back where I was born”

These are some of the few words some visitors could hear from Lejita, a 17-year-old girl who has worked as a domestic servant and lived far from her family for 10 years. But she returned to her home, thanks to a children’s reintegration program supported by CWS and run by long-time Haitian partner Ecumenical Foundation for Peace and Justice, known as FOPJ.

FOPJ provides education to restavèk children and raises awareness among host and biological families about this issue. Depending on the country or culture, children doing domestic work carry different kinds of labels or names. In Haiti, children living in domesticity are called “restavèk”, which means “staying with” in Haitian Creole.

There are as many as 450,000 children living as “restavèks” – forced to carry out domestic chores on a daily basis, living in very precarious conditions and far from their biological families.

Lejita is one of these children, and has lived with a family not her own for a decade. Her parents and her seven siblings live in Carrefour Charles, Grand Anse, the southwestern province of Haiti, that produces many types of fruit, coffee and cocoa. Lejita was taken to an aunt’s home in Port-au-Prince when she was only 6 years old. During those 10 years, Lejita did the dishes, swept, made up the beds, carried water, prepared food, bought charcoal, etc. While in the house, she was not allowed to eat with the other members of the family or go to school like the other children in the house.

This is how Lejita lived until 2012, when she had the chance to start attending school at FOPJ, located in the Carrefour Feuilles section of Port-au-Prince. In the summer of 2012, FOPJ, with the support of CWS, reintegrated 21 restavèk children and Lejita had the chance to return home. Those 10 years of working hard have clearly taken a toll on Lejita, who is behind in both physical and mental development. At 17, she looks no older than 13.

Luckily, she now enjoys playing with her sisters and is in 3rd grade at school. The most important thing is that Lejita is happy to be back home. As she said: “This is where I was born.”