When I lived in the Shoebox, my next door neighbors always had a restavek, or child slave, living with them. Perhaps you remember the story of Dieula, the girl they kicked out onto the street in September 2010 who I was able to place in a rescue home. Shortly after Dieula, I met their new slave, a girl named Pierreline. I didn’t see her as often as Dieula but I slowly got to know her. Once or twice she came for food, saying that they had left her home alone all day with nothing to eat. And in February, she approached me for bus money so that she could go home to the countryside to visit her ailing mother. I gave it to her, as well as meds for her mom, and that was it. She never came back. I’d unintentionally freed her as well.
My neighbors got a new girl a month later. One afternoon when all the kids and I were goofing around on the front porch, the girl came over to ask me a question. My neighbor’s wife heard her and immediately came out screaming, “Don’t you go near that white woman!!” Apparently, she was afraid to lose yet another slave.
Two weeks ago, a girl walked past me on the street with a basket of bread on her head. Our eyes met and she stopped short. It was Pierreline, back in Port-au-Prince, living with her aunt and selling bread to survive.
I invited her to come see me a few days later with her 8 year old brother, Emmanuel. They told me that in the storm earlier that week, their little house had flooded. The rain had washed away all their clothes, food, and few belongings, and had threatened to take them too. An older cousin was able to rescue them using a plank of wood as a ladder, and now they were living in an unfinished room in Delmas 64.
I went to my youth group girls and asked them if they had any clothes they could spare for Pierreline. My mother brought some clothes for Emmanuel and they gratefully accepted them, along with a tent to help their current living situation. When Pierreline visited me again to say thank you, I asked her some more questions about her time as a restavek with my neighbor. “You started working for them in the fall of 2010, right?” I asked.
“Oh, no,” Pierreline replied. “I was there for 2 years before you gave me that bus money. They never let me leave the house. I just stayed in that downstairs room, doing laundry and cleaning. I used to hear you and see the children run past on their way to playing at your house, but I could never go out.”
I lived beside her for nearly 1 ½ years without realizing she was there!! I am still completely stunned. And Pierreline is merely one of thousands of girls and boys who live in such situations in Haiti. When will we get justice for them?