|One morning last fall in a rural village in Haiti, a woman who we’ll call Esperanta bathed and dressed her five kids, locked them into her tiny house, and then walked away with the intention of ending her life. |
Life had not treated Esperanta gently. Her husband routinely got drunk and beat her and their kids. He had recently left her for another woman in the community.
While his departure brought relief from the abuse, he was the family’s only source of income. She was already poor. Now she couldn’t afford to regularly feed her kids, much less pay for their schooling.
Her interior life was no easier. Esperanta felt humiliated and helpless, and she blamed herself for everything that had gone wrong. These weren’t new feelings for Esperanta. When she was a girl, her parents sent Esperanta away to live with another family. Instead of caring for her, though, this family abused and exploited her. They constantly told her that she was worthless and blamed her for everything. Esperanta had become trapped in a modern form of slavery that Haitians call restavèk.
Now, many years later, her abusive husband’s departure brought all these emotions back. She felt abandoned, alone, and worthless. Ending her life felt like her only choice.
About this same time last year, Beyond Borders decided to expand our work into more than two dozen new communities in rural Haiti. The decision to do this could have seemed pretty ambitious to an outside observer given the expense and the growing complexity, violence, and chaos in much of Haiti. We were driven to take this leap though, because of people like Esperanta.
The approaches we bring to communities like Esperanta’s equips them to systematically bring an end to the restavèk practice, prevent violence against women and children, overcome extreme poverty, and ensure that children have all their basic needs – safety, food, and education – met.
Shortly after Esperanta left her home that day last fall, she crossed paths with her aunt. One in six women in Haiti – like Esperanta and her aunt – is a survivor of restavèk, and both women had recently joined a newly formed chapter of Beyond Borders’ survivor network in their community.
Her aunt could see how troubled Esperanta was. She reminded Esperanta that a woman from Beyond Borders was coming to the weekly survivor meeting that was about to get started, and she encouraged Esperanta to come with her. Reluctantly, Esperanta agreed.
|The Beyond Borders staff member who shared Esperanta’s story with me was Mathania Chapron, who serves as a staff psychologist for our team. At that meeting, Mathania led Esperanta, her aunt, and the other survivors in a reflection on discovering their own self-worth.|
|Esperanta broke down in tears and shared with her fellow survivors how she’d been planning to abandon her children and end her life. |
Coming to the meeting, she told them, had saved her life.
“Even though you see me crying,” Esperanta said, “these are tears of hope and gratitude. I feel like I’m worth something – and I love my children.”
The key to a success like this is igniting in survivors and in communities – no matter how destitute, powerless, and hopeless they may feel – a vision of what they can accomplish if they join together to defend the most vulnerable and lift up the most oppressed.
This vision makes big demands. It requires people to put aside their fear and to trust each other. It demands that people choose hope over despair. Extending Beyond Borders into new communities like this has required us to expand our staff in Haiti and to take on many new expenses.
As the end of our fiscal year approaches (June 30), we need to raise at least $150,000 to cover our budget for this work. Recognizing this need, we are launching a fundraising campaign that we’re calling Choose Hope.
On one level this name – Choose Hope – makes a lot of sense because it expresses a dynamic that we witness every day in Haiti. Communities that could give up to despair in the face of extreme hardship instead choose hope, and that hope inspires in them the strength to do what had seemed impossible.
On another level, though, after hearing Esperanta’s story, it’s clear that a campaign called Choose Hope could imply that hope is something you always have the power to choose…
So, is hope a choice?
It can be, but it is often a choice that we can’t make on our own. We need one another to choose hope.
Esperanta found hope because she was surrounded by others who understood her pain and believed in her worth. That morning they chose hope together.
Supporters of Beyond Borders are also a part of the circle of people who chose hope. We weren’t there physically, but our support was in some measure part of what made that gathering possible.
This is what the Choose Hope campaign is all about: together we make hope possible for one another.
We can celebrate with Esperanta, who is on the road to healing.