You might not even believe this story. After all the bad news 2010 brought Haiti—an earthquake, a cholera epidemic, and political turmoil—good news can seem implausible.
But, as this story will illustrate, the best news often follows really bad news. And this story begins with really bad news.
Esther was only 11 years old when her parents in the countryside decided to send her away to live with a family in Port-au-Prince. This family promised they’d pay for her schooling in exchange for a little household work. While Esther was heartbroken and missed home, she was finally getting to attend school… at least for the first few months.
But then the family suddenly moved to another neighborhood without telling Esther’s parents. She was no longer allowed to go to school, and for the next three years every waking moment was filled with nothing but work and abuse. She had become what Haitians call a restavèk—a slave child.
Then on the afternoon of January 12 while Esther was out at the open-air market the earth began to convulse and the house that had been her hell was flattened. Without this house, the family had no more use for her and abandoned her to the post-quake chaos.
We wouldn’t know Esther’s story were it not for a courageous young woman named Myriam Saintquitte. She’s one of 113 caseworkers that the Beyond Borders team in Haiti trained right after the earthquake to identify and protect children who had become separated from their families.
Myriam was introduced to Esther by a caring elderly woman who had found Esther wandering a nearby street. The woman struggled to protect Esther and keep her fed.
Myriam needed to get the details of Esther’s story to start the process of finding her family. Keeping any professional distance during that first interview was impossible. Myriam wept withEsther and held her as she recounted her painful odyssey.
Myriam returned to meet with Esther frequently, making sure the elderly woman was able to provide for the basics. Meanwhile Myriam’s colleagues worked in the countryside trying to find Esther’s family.
The team wasn’t certain that Esther’s family had survived the quake because they lived in Petit-Goâve, a town that was close to the epicenter. Eventually though, their hard work paid off, and Myriam got a call that Esther’s parents had been found. Myriam talked to Esther’s mother who was ecstatic because they’d given Esther up for dead.
Esther’s entire extended family and neighborhood gathered to welcome her home. Myriam wept again, this time with tears of joy, as she witnessed Esther and her mother embrace for the first time in years.
Myriam stays in close touch with Esther to make sure the reintegration with her family is going well and that she is settled into a school that can meet the needs of a 14-year-old who’s had almost no previous schooling. Esther says she’s never been happier.
This is not an isolated story of hope and happiness. So far, nearly a thousand children have been reunited with their families by caseworkers we’ve trained.
But there are tens of thousands more separated children. This is partly why our plans for 2011 are so ambitious.
For example, we plan to train over 16,000 Haitian adults to serve as child advocates for vulnerable or abused children. We also want to help Haiti develop a formal alternative to therestavèk practice—a functioning foster care and adoption program for kids who are orphaned or whose parents can’t be found.
We know that our plans are ambitious. We’re working hard to make sure that 2011 brings a year of progress, relief, and continued hope for Haiti.