Diary from Haiti: Joanne is a superstar

by Judith Kühl,  2010/01/26

She coordinates the journalistic work of the media representatives accompanying our team, arranges interviews, relieves the other coordinators and reports on the aid work by herself as in this “diary from Haiti”. Judith Kühl, reporting from a destroyed city, between hope and fear.

Monday, 25th of January 2010, 12:10 pm, local time

This is what no child would want to be: a so-called “restavec” child. No child wants to be referred to as that. Yet, according to estimations, there are at least 300.000 of them in Haiti. They live with poor families, as slaves. They clean, wash, cook, fetch water and take care of smaller children in the house.

They do everything they are told to do. They don’t have a personal story anymore. All they have is a roof over their head. A rusty roof of corrugated iron in a tiny shack in the slum “Wharf Jeremie”, which, after the earthquake, seems an unliveable place even more than before. In front of their hut, the ground is covered with mud, waste and excrements.

Restavec children in Port-au-Prince: Sad fates within a terrible disaster. Foto: humedica/Judith Kühl

The fate of the „restavec“-children is a tragic one. Joanne, for example, is a ten-year-old girl who has been living in “Wharf Jeremie” in the port of Port-au-Prince, for as long as she can remember. She is thin, seems shy, and the deep scars in her face suggest that she has experienced much violence in her young life. „Joanne is a superstar“, a Haitian staffer of the organization Kindernothilfe tells me, who has been taking care of the children living in this miserable slum for some time.

He asks Joanne to sing a short song. Joanne sings beautifully, yet her face is without any expression. She doesn’t laugh like the other children around her. Shily, she looks at me from the side, when she has finished her song. Carefully, I take her in my arms. She seems fragile and exhausted. Her dirty and sticky hand grabs mine. She doesn’t say a word and looks at me with empty eyes.

Due to the earthquake in January, the fate of the “restavec”-children has become even more miserable. Some of the slave children have lost everything. Their so-called “host family” has chased them away because they are no longer able to feed their own children. Orphaned children are in the danger of being sold as “restavec” children by slave traders.

The aid organization Kindernothilfe, a partner of humedica in Haiti, is setting up a children’s care centre for restavec children and traumatized children in “Wharf Jeremie”. A psychologist will take care of the lonely kids. “In the long run, the aim of the project will be to make education possible for the children. This is the only way for them to break out of the circle of poverty”, says Jürgen Schübelin, who initiated the project.

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