Smith Maxime (left) directs the United to End Child Slavery partnership between Beyond Borders and Free the Slaves, and he is a key player in the Schools Not Slavery initiative.
Smith is a lawyer with a Master’s Degree in Project Management and he is the father of four – 2 girls and 2 boys. We sat down with Smith to get his thoughts on school in Haiti.
Q: What is your greatest memory of being a student/going to school?
A: Even though I went to public school, it was always difficult to prepare every new school year. My parents would reply on the quality of the harvest which was not always good. This is a memory that stays with me – the level of sacrifice they made to get me this level of education.
Q: What does it mean to Haitian parents to have their children educated?
A: There is no social protection for most people in the country. There is no retirement system for most people in the country. Most people do not have a significant amount of savings. For Haitian parents, having their children going to school means preparing those children to breaking the circle of poverty. It means putting in place social protection for themselves and to prepare for their retirement. They count on their children to take of them when they cannot work anymore.
Q: Why will Haitian parents sacrifice so much to send their kids to school?
A: School represents hope for Haitian parents. Without the possibility for their children to go to school, they are hopeless.
Q: What are the different factors that keep kids from going to school in Haiti?
A: Haiti has made a lot of progress in terms of gender equality in primary school. The percentage of boys and girls going to school is almost equal now. But poverty and lack of investment from the government are the main factors that keep kids from going to school in Haiti.
Q: Why did you choose to study law and project management?
A: I spent most of my childhood under a dictatorship government and I grew up in countryside. I know what oppression and exclusion are. I wanted to find a way to change the system of oppression and exclusion that was all too established in our society. I thought changed laws would one the best option. Also, I wanted to know how to defend right of my fellow citizens in court, especially those who are marginalized.
Q: Why is it important for you to be working to end child slavery in Haiti?
A: When you are living in a country where more than 300,000 children are engaged in domestic labor and more than 200,000 are considered in domestic servitude, you cannot be neutral. If we leave this situation to be perpetuated, we will have more than 300,000 people stuck in the circle of poverty. Those children are hopeless if we do not break this system of exploitation.
Q: Why is Schools Not Slavery a key initiative to keep Haitian children safe?
A: Parents are looking for a better future for their children when they decide to send them away. Most of the time, they have the promises that the child will go to school. But, long after, they realize that the promise was false. Helping the community to provide schooling is the best way to keep the children at home.
Q: What inspires you about what you do?
A: Haiti is a country of liberty. Following the path of our ancestors, we should fight every system of oppression and exploitation. Freeing children from enslavement is the best way to establish justice.