Alina “Tibebe” Cajuste and Helia LaJeunesse are friends and two of our many leaders working with our Adult Survivors Network to end child slavery once and for all in Haiti.
by Kendra Davis
People in Haiti often talk of the Haitian Revolution with great pride and admiration for its leaders. When I was there–once I started looking in the right places–I found symbols not only of the uprisings but of the horrific trade that made them a necessity. I saw them as abstract relics of a world that I feel little connection to, though its effects play out in every minute of everyday life in a place like Haiti.
Days like tomorrow feel awkward. I’m being called on to remember a time that I’ll never fully understand and engage with it in a meaningful way. Does that mean envisioning what I might have been doing on this night 222 years ago, as fed up slaves took to the streets and decided it was time to change their fate? Does that mean being thoughtful of my white privilege? Or does it simply mean fulfilling a quota of reflection–perhaps slightly more than a typical daily dose–and moving on?
Maybe it means doing a 360 of our world today.
The transatlantic slave trade may have officially ended, but modern slavery is omnipresent in every corner of the world.
I knew this when I started hearing about the sex market, the forced labor, the “trafficking”–a word I had to later look up because what it really meant confused me. But it was all still pretty vague, a world whose doors of engagement were not easily found.
To some extent that changed when I joined Beyond Borders, and the movement to end child slavery that we’ve been building. But it really took form just a few weeks ago, when I met Alina “Tibebe” Cajuste and Helia LaJeunesse. For a while we sat together in silence, as I was unsure how to start a conversation with two heroine-survivors of child slavery–an abuse so foreign to anything I had ever experienced.
The friends–both leaders in our Adult Survivors Network–took the lead, asking me how I was liking the country and what type of meals I was eating. Within what seemed like no time at all the conversation shifted from food to freedom, specifically what that meant to them and how they’re working to bring it to as many children trapped inrestavèk [child slavery] as possible.
We talked about language, and why Tibebe refuses to call what happened to her “domestic servitude” or “child labor”, because only the word “slavery” can deliver enough punch to actually make its listeners do something about it. I listened as they told me that, in some areas of Haiti, the movement is taking a stronger hold than in others, and we discussed what we can learn from those areas to truly turn this into a nationwide resistance with as widespread support as the Haitian Revolution received.
I asked them to tell me frankly if they thought the practice ofrestavèk would end in their lifetimes. As long as the network of support continues to grow, and we’re intentional about doing it right at every step of the way, they said, then yes.
Yes, restavèk can and will end in our lifetimes.
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