Dina is one of my neighbors on Delmas 91. I knew that she didn't come from the greatest situation because she always wore one of two dresses and because when conscientious parents forbade their children from entering my concrete house in the months immediately following the quake, Dina was one of the only ones that came in, meaning that no one truly cared about her safety. She always seems a little dirtier, her hair a little more unkempt, and her language a bit less refined. Outward appearance is very important in Port-au-Prince and no self-respecting mother allows her child to run around dirty or in ripped clothing if she can help it. It's the first sign of real poverty or child slavery.
I didn't get a bigger picture until this summer when I started working on school scholarships for the kids in the tent city. All of them had been to school for at least a year or two except Frantz and Dina. Frantz was only 6, so his case was more understandable but Dina was 11 years old! I needed her birth certificate to register her, but Pierre, the man she lives with, said it was 4 hours away in Les Cayes with Dina's real mother. I asked him to go get it.
Pierre is a good man. He's the one who fixed my electric 3 months after the earthquake so that I finally had power and he reguarly did little repairs at my house during those crazy months without accepting any payment. He worked as one of the demo guys at St Joe's for months so I saw him every single day and worked alongside him some days. Now that the demo crew has changed, Pierre has bought himself a brand new motorcycle and works as a moto-taxi driver.
When I approached him about Dina's birth certificate, I expected a similar response to what Pierre had given me during my electrical nightmares. Surely, I thought, if I am arranging to get your girl into school for free, the least you can do is help out by getting me the birth certificate. But Pierre refused to get it unless I paid his way to Les Cayes. So I paid. Dina and Frantz started school together, in a sort of special tutoring class where they are being taught all the basics, things as simple as 1-2-3.
A few weeks ago, Pierre's wife delivered her first baby and has been staying at a friend's house in another part of town. Now, because Madame Pierre isn't home during the day, Dina has to stay home to watch the door-less tent. She can't go to school and Pierre only leaves her with the equivalent of 60 cents to buy herself food while he is gone from early morning until evening. Poor Dina sits in a little chair in front of the tent and watches her friends walk to school in their clean crisp uniforms. When the city water pipe turns on, she fills buckets and hauls them up to the house. When the children come play with me, she sneaks in for a few minutes and then runs back up the hill, afraid that Pierre will return and beat her. She asks me for food every night and on the nights that she doesn't catch me walking down the street, she sends Frantz down to beg on her behalf.
I am torn. Do I remove Dina from her current situation and try to get her placed at the same home where Dieula, my next-door neighbor's child slave, is now living or do I leave her here with her community? Her condition is not good, but unfortunately, the condition of most orphanages and children's homes in Haiti is often not much better. I will have to make a decision soon. Dina's looking skinny.
I asked Dina last week why her mother sent her to live with Pierre and Madame Pierre. "She didn't," Dina answered. "It was my big sister who brought me here." Who's your big sister?
"My big sister? You know her, Kez. She's Madame Pierre."
How could you? How could you treat your own little sister like a child slave? Perhaps there is much more to the story than I know. Perhaps there was a good reason to bring Dina to the city. Perhaps things are better here than they would have been with her mother. I hope that's the case, but mostly I hope that someday Haiti will be so drastically different that children won't be seen as a burden or a worker but as precious gifts from God.