The Santa Chiara Children’s Center

Later today, I will be traveling to Port-au-Prince, Haiti. During my ten day stay in Haiti I will be taking the first tentative steps at opening a day care center for children which my wife and I will operate. Pax et Bonum Communications hopes to soon be doing more than putting the power of film at the service of the poor…we will actually be serving poor children in Haiti.

Allow me to paint a picture of “child care” in Haiti. Basically, there is none. A poor woman with children who earns her living selling things at a public market or on the street has no viable option other than to take the kids with her. Women set up their tables in the larger markets at 4:00am, dragging their sleepy children with them. The women who spend their days seated along the side of the road selling some meager amount of produce or cheap merchandise must also take their kids with them. Besides breathing in the obnoxious fumes spewed from old vehicles, it’s not uncommon for children to be hurt by passing traffic. Another option is for women is to “rent” the kids out to families for the day; the child will spend the day inside someone’s home doing all sorts of menial tasks, such as cleaning and hauling water. The family “renting” the kid for the day will feed the child in exchange for the work they do. The food the child gets will simply be a bowl of plain rice. Even worse, some women loan their kids to a person who spends their day begging on the street. This is hard for us to imagine: using young kids as a tool to elicit sympathy. The professional beggar will share some small percentage of what they “earn” during the day with the child’s mother. If they don’t make any money, the mother gets no money. To add to the complexity of the situation many poor women can’t afford to send their children to school, as they don’t have the money for tuition, books, and uniforms.

It’s been estimated that half the women in Haiti are illiterate…they have never been to school. They can’t even sign their own name. Many of these uneducated women don’t understand how people get AIDS or other serious diseases. This absence of rudimentary education makes them extremely vulnerable; they lack awareness of fundamental human rights and are easily manipulated into “selling” their children into various forms of servitude to pay off a debt to a money lender. A child who has been sold into servitude is called a “restavec,” a word which comes from the French reste avec meaning “one who stays with.” A restavec is a child who is sent by his or her parents to work for a host household as a domestic servant because the parents can’t afford to care for the child. Restavec may refer to any child staying with a host family, but usually refers specifically to those who are indentured. Restavecs are typically young girls who have been born into severe poverty. These children receive food and shelter in exchange for doing housework. Restavecs are usually treated badly; they will not receive any education and are often physically abused and sexually molested.

Restavecs have no social or political voice, nor can they determine their own futures. Tragically, the life of a restavec is often considered better than the alternative life of chronic, hopeless poverty, which is why some parents allow their children to become restavecs; of course, the child will never have a better life. No Haitian parent wants to see their child become a restavec; poverty forces them to resort to this painful alternative. In many cases, the economic means parents used to have no longer exist. The rising influx of foreign rice, eggs, and other things on the market by big business has destroyed the peasant economy, and created a whole chain of events that leaves some people with no other option than to send their child away so the child has a chance to survive. Haiti is a nation of ten million people, and thousands of children are restavecs. Theirs is a hidden, harsh life. As poverty and political turmoil increases, so do the numbers of restavecs. Most people will get rid of their restavecs by the time they turn fifteen, because a law was passed stating that at age fifteen all people must be paid.

The truly impoverished Haitians have barely a glimmer of hope of how to change their sorrowful plight. Someone once told me they went to church “to pray for hope.” Life in Haiti for the children of the chronically poor who have not become restavecs is nonetheless still very, very hard. I believe God has put it in my heart to do what I can to make things a little better for at least a few kids…and maybe even save some from the fate of becoming restavecs. My experience of filming poverty all over the world for the past fifteen years has been preparing me for this new mission. I’ve witnessed many small ministries begun by one very motivated individual who has made a great difference in the lives of those they served. I’m ready to do likewise.

Over the years, I’ve often wished I could be offering more hands-on help to the poor. Lately, I feel this real pull toward Haiti. In late January of this year, I floated the idea of children’s center in Haiti to the PetB board of directors. Much to my delight, the idea was met with instant enthusiasm and support. Since then, the dream of The Santa Chiara Children’s Center has become more and more real as I shared the idea with friends and family members.

If you want to know more about our plans for the children’s or want to help in anyway, please send me an e-mail and when I return home on May 17th I will send you my full report.

While I’m in Haiti I will not be posting updates on the trip, as I will have limited access to the internet. However, I have preset blogs to be posted while I’m away. Please keep me in your prayers.


10 Responses to “The Santa Chiara Children’s Center”

  1. 1 James Sedwick May 6, 2015 at 5:42 am

    I appreciate your effort to make this child care center. I’m sending along a contribution to help.

  2. 2 Kristen Kinkopf May 6, 2015 at 7:19 am

    You and your wife are in my prayers as you create this important new program for children and families in Haiti. I can only imagine how difficult this will be. Please send me the report upon your return.

  3. 3 Phil Paul May 6, 2015 at 8:49 am

    Please send me your report and an address where I can send a donation.
    Phil Paul

  4. 4 Elizabeth Graham May 6, 2015 at 2:03 pm

    Please send me your report. I spent a week in Haiti in 2011 and was completing devastated by the destruction and poverty. Your book, Hidden in the Rubble, helped me more than you can ever know. I would like to send a donation also to help in just a little way. Thank you so much for what you and your wife are doing.

  5. 5 aliceny May 6, 2015 at 7:27 pm

    Again, the Lord has more for you to do. He leads, you follow! Beautiful, Gerry. I would like to see your report also – and hope, too, to be able to
    send a donation.

    Dominus Vobiscum to you and your wife.

  6. 6 Mike Seely May 7, 2015 at 7:03 am

    Gerry, my prayers are with you and your wife. Your work together on this important project of service inspires me. Please forward your report and specific donation info. May God’s love be with you in all ways!

  7. 7 ekabna May 8, 2015 at 1:21 pm

    Would love to hear about your progress. Have you thought about setting up a public fundraising page (GoFundMe) or similar? I would like to help also.

  8. 8 Lanny Cordola May 9, 2015 at 8:22 am

    another like minded friend in Haiti-G w i G keeps expanding:) >

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