Mothers of Slave Children

Several years back I shared this story of a meeting I had with a group of mothers we work with in Haiti. I was asked to share it again this Mother’s Day, and I thought you might like to read it too.

Thank you so much for your open heart for Haiti’s children and moms.

David

Growing up, I always knew that my mom, if faced with the choice, would immediately give up her life for me. That’s probably true of just about every mother.

And this may explain the reaction I get sometimes when I tell people that Beyond Borders works with Haitian parents (usually mothers) who’ve sent their children away into slavery. “What kind of mother would do that?” I’m asked.

Madame Jerome (front right) and other mothers who were able to retrieve their children from slavery and place them in the accelerated education class.

To answer, I tell them about encounters like the one I recently had with a group of four mothers in a remote village. Each had sent at least one of their children away. These mothers clearly loved their children and wanted to keep them home. But even more, they wanted a better life for their children who they had never been able to send to school. Each child had grown too old to ever be enrolled in a traditional first grade.

In the city and larger towns, there are “afternoon schools” that accept older students. This fact helped make these mothers more open to believing the brokers who told them that they’d place their child with a family who would put their child in school.

Nearly two years ago Beyond Borders started training child rights activists in that remote village. People discovered through this initiative the real risks facing children who are sent to live with other families in the city. They learned that while some children are well cared for, the great majority are badly exploited. Rarely are these children sent to school. Instead they work every waking hour and face chronic abuse and humiliation.

The activists form volunteer child protection committees that help parents like this group of mothers find their children in the city. If, as often happens, these parents discover their child is being exploited and wants to return home, the committees help these parents retrieve their children and bring them back home.

One of the mothers, Madame Barjon Jerome, explained her horror when she found her twelve-year-old daughter skinny, barefoot, dirty, and in rags. Instead of being sent to school, she was being abused and worked relentlessly.

Because school is often a huge factor in the decision these parents make to send their children away, Beyond Borders organizes networks of rural schools to help them develop special classes for over-aged children who are at greatest risk for being sent into servitude. We train teachers to use an accelerated curriculum that allows most older kids to catch up to their grade level and complete elementary school in only three years.

All these mothers had rescued their children and brought them back home. Their children were all now in school, thanks to the accelerated education program. Madame Jerome’s now fourteen-year-old daughter has quickly become the most literate person in the household and can read important family documents—land titles, birth certificates, and the like—that help them from being duped or exploited. Madame Jerome beamed with pride as she talked about her daughter’s progress and the hope she now has for her.

The generosity of people like you makes it possible for courageous moms like Madame Jerome to bring their daughters and sons home. Thank you and Happy Mother’s Day to moms everywhere!

David