A few weeks ago Nick went to a meeting about foster care in Haiti, which, of course, always brings up the issue of restavek. Some people consider restavek child slavery. Nick and I don't always think that's the case. It's sort of a continuum that has foster care on one side and slavery on the other. And each individual case is somewhere on that spectrum. You can read more on restavek either by googling it, or checking out the website of Jean R Cadet Restavek Organization. Because Cadet actually grew up as a restavek, I trust his voice. His book Restavec: From Haitian Slave Child to Middle-Class American, is heart-breaking, and a story all of us who live in Haiti have heard all to often.
Anyway, I have some thoughts swirling around in my head about restavek that I want to write about, but I want to give you a short(ish) narrative of our experience about a precious little girl who entered into our lives for a very short time about 4 years ago. Below is the text from three posts I wrote around that time. But if you want more on the story, I suggest you check out this post from Nick, where he summarized the story over 8 posts. I don't know why this story (amongst the hundreds of stories we've experienced) has stuck with us so, but it has. So read on. It will be good background for tomorrow's post.
Monday, March 21, 2011
I always wonder if I should share things like this. I've gone back and forth as to whether or not to tell you about this-- but I decided to. I try to be very honest and discuss things that are happening in our lives. This is something happening that's pretty raw...
We have stepped into a situation with a little girl 10 year old girl. She's the textbook definition of arestavek. She's been horribly mistreated. She doesn't get to go to school while the biological children in the family do. She has to clean and cook and do the laundry. When she doesn't do her work well, she's beaten. By definition, (a person who is the property of and wholly subject toanother), she is a slave. And she's beaten like a slave. She has a fresh wound from being whipped on her face (just Friday-- three days ago) that's still pretty swollen and causes her a lot of throbbing pain.
She also has dozens of less fresh wounds and scars all over her body. Her back and arms and butt and legs are strewn with scars from being whipped. She has a place under her arm that's nearly healed but still a bit scabbed over where her "owner" burned her with electrical lines for not doing her work well.
We found out about her through some friends who live downtown. She came to their house on Friday and said she needed help. The friend, knowing I have an orphanage, called us.
We took her to the police station Saturday and they contacted the judge who gave our orphanage temporary custody until we can stand before him (tomorrow). She's gotten cleaned up and looks much better. 90% of the time she's super spunky and tough (even to the point of being a bit mean at times). But then she breaks into these puddles of tears and seems to have a lot of anxiety. She gets very jumpy and nervous when people yell or when a loud noise is made. This morning she woke up with "pain under her heart" and was nearly hyperventilating.
Would you pray that we can get all of the preliminary paperwork figured out today so that we're prepared tomorrow to stand before the judge? Would you pray for peace to reign in her heart? Would you pray for her wounds (both physical and emotional) to begin to heal? Would you pray that SOMEHOW we can find the birth family today? (The neighbors have given us some good leads.) Would you pray that the judge would not allow this family to occupy her anymore?
Children don't have a lot of rights in Haiti. I can't change that. But I can do for one child what I wish I could do for all of them. I am begging God for the favor to stand up for this sweet, broken girl and use my voice to change the trajectory of her life... please pray with me.
Tuesday, March 22, 2011
Update on the restavek post from two days ago.
We're starting to get a good feel for how this case is going to go in the Haitian justice system. That's the good news and the bad news.
Today was a wildly emotional and ridiculously stressful adventure as we stood before the police and then the justice of the peace along with Marie-Marthe's birthparents to try to figure out next steps for her. The good news there is that the parents (who were not the people abusing her) want to take her back and not terminate parental rights. Now, after knowing that it was these parents' neglect that lead her into the situation, some of you are probably scratching your heads and thinking, "Wait? That's a good thing?" It's hard to look at this situation from a North American mind and not insert your North American values. Don't get me wrong, I know we're talking about human rights issues, but the fact is, the parents weren't the ones abusing her. And while we look at the situation and say, "They must have known," or, "They should have known," that's not really an issue here. The birthparents put their daughter into the hands of her abusers with the hope of a better life for her. Unfortunately, that hope was misplaced and the story has become the textbook example of restavek (child slave.)
There's a lot to the story. Lots of weird twists and turns and angry/sad people. (I took my anger out on the gum I was chewing... I don't think there's ever been a piece of gum ever chewed harder.) I ALMOST cried a tear, but alas, 'twas not to be today. Marie-Marthe on the other hand cried a river of tears.
Here's where we ended up.
The judge granted us 2 more days with Marie-Marthe. After those two days, we will reconvene at the court house where the abuser has been summonsed. During the hearing, our case will be presented that the abuser should be punished. She will have her thing to say. And then that's it. It will be over. The judge will hand down his judgment on whether the abuser deserves punishment. And after the trial, he's already decided that Marie-Marthe will be leaving with her parents. They've invited us to come over to their house to see it and so they can say thank you to us. (I feel gross food coming on...)
So that's settled and that's a good thing. But it's our hope and our prayer that her abuser will be brought to justice and Marie-Marthe won't ever have to see her again. I have no confidence that this will actually happen this way.
But I still can hope.
Thursday, March 24, 2011
We didn't lie to the Nazis
Nick was listening to this message a while ago from Crossroads Church in Cincinnati. The pastor (maybe Brian Wells?) was talking about how Christians so often spend so much time arguing over stupid moral dilemmas. He used the example of this online forum where Christians were actually debating whether it was a sin to hide Jews during the Holocaust. Because yeah, lying is a sin. So if the Nazis come to the door and you're hiding Jews, is it a sin to lie to them? Because we really shouldn't lie. And his point was, we're talking about human lives. If the Nazis come to the door, LIE TO THE NAZIS. Always lie to the Nazis.
Nick and I are rule-followers. We like to obey the rules. So in the case of Marie Marthe, we did everything "by the book" (like we always do.) We didn't pay anyone off (nor have we ever done that contrary to what "anonymous sources" suggest.) When this little girl was brought to us we followed all the rules. We went to the police station and filed a police report. We got permission from the judge to have her in our home. We contacted Haitian Social Services and an organization in Jacmel working on the restavek problem. We took pictures as the judge recommended. We went to court on behalf of Marie Marthe--twice.
But we didn't lie to the Nazis. We didn't do anything unethical. We didn't just hide her away. We didn't pay off the parents, the judge or the abuser to just let us have her. We didn't fight for her to be taken from her parents (because we, as a family and as an organization, ALWAYS try to keep kids with their parents if possible.) We fought clean.
And in the end, this girl that has these marks--
--(amongst dozens of others on nearly all places on her body) went back into the hands of her parents who (BEFORE EVEN LEAVING THE COURTHOUSE) put her back into the hands of her abuser.
I get that we have to follow the laws of this country. I get that we're not only talking about Marie-Marthe's future but the future of our 11 children and the organization we represent.
But I cannot shake this thought-- Why didn't I lie to the Nazis?
On January 18 while Nick and I were out at Church on the Beach, we received a frantic phone call from one of our staff members. We were told, "You need to come quick, Fritzie is very sick." We raced home, or, I should say, we TRIED to race home, but the start of Karnaval season in Jacmel meant we had to take the long way home, as the most direct route was blocked. This made our drive about 25 minutes.
When we got there, we discovered that Fritzie, our kind, bright-eyed, super responsible girl was unconscious. She had been unconscious for at least 30 minutes prior, but before that had experienced a series of seizures. We called around trying to figure out which hospital to bring her to. We decided to go with the private hospital in Jacmel, in the hopes that they would have a doctor there. (Hospitals not having doctors available is a "thing" here.) So loaded Fritzie up a few minutes later and headed to the hospital. She was still unconscious. When we arrived at the hospital, there was not a doctor there. We went back and forth for some time as to whether or not I could just put her into a hospital bed there while we waited, but they said no. They would not let her in until they knew a doctor could come. So, still unconscious, Fritzie waited in the car with one of our staff members, occasionally her body arced in the aftermath of the seizure. Later that evening she woke up, but hasn't been the same since.
Fritzie has been through a whole battery of tests that we didn't even know were available in Haiti. A CT scan, an MRI, an EEG, and a lot of blood work. (We owe a big thank you to our church family at Crosspointe who so graciously helped us pay for these expensive tests.) We've been so blessed to not only consult with doctors here in Haiti, but also two in the States who have graciously taken my panic-mom texts and calmed me down. The thing is, we don't really know what's wrong.
The current theory we are going with is that Fritzie has an inflammation of the brain known as encephalitis. It explains many of her symptoms-- extreme lethargy, vision changes, headaches, and being very unstable on her feet. She sleeps at least 18 hours per day and she has been so very quiet. When you talk to her too much, it makes her head hurt. Often, we see her just sitting staring off into no where. Some days are better than others.
This has meant some changes for our family. First, Fritzie has moved from the girls house into the "Mangine" house. She's been sleeping in Nia's bed with our compassionate Nia girl. And the truth is, Nia would share her bed with Fritzie for as long as necessary without every complaining. She's just that kind of kid. But we've come to the realization that if this truly is encephalitis, it is likely a long road to recovery ahead... likely at least multiple months. We put out feelers to see if anyone local had some bunk beds we could borrow or buy on the cheap, because money is just super tight. Nia's room is teeny, and two beds just won't fit.
And you guys, the most amazing thing happened. Not only did our friend, and fellow local Jacmel missionary, Travis, purchase the supplies and build us bunkbeds, our friends the Stevens (other local Haiti missionaries) offered to buy new mattresses for us. (We didn't end up needing them to buy us mattresses because we found some old ones we had that work great, but that's not the point.) The point is that these families who stepped up to help us during this illness we're going through in our family were all missionaries here in Haiti. They live on support and that's not known to be an extravagant lifestyle. None of us have tons of money lying around, but these friends of ours gave generously so that our needs were met. My friends Maria, Sarah, and Chanee showed up at the hospital that first night. They offered to take my American kids and even do their homeschool when I had to go to Port with Fritzie for tests. Our friend, Sarah, dropped everything and traveled with me (twice) to Port that week, even staying overnight with me twice so that Fritzie could be cared for. This left Nick free to stay at home with the kids who were very scared. You guys. These people are the church.
And then there's our staff. Y'all. I can't even think about this too much without getting misty-eyed. Our staff are so amazing. They are family. Felecia spent the night on the concrete floor of the hospital with me that first night when Fritzie got sick. I tried to get her to go home, but she wouldn't have it. She also went to Port au Prince with me for 3 days to help out. I told her to stay back. She didn't. ;) The staff and kids have prayed over Fritzie. They read the Bible over her. Several neighbors have come in to do the same.
Leaving our "home" of North Carolina almost six years ago, we were so scared to leave behind a church family we loved and needed so badly. I still need those friends and that church family. But this thing with Fritzie has shown us so very, very clearly that we have "people" here too. We have great people. The best people.
And so I am thankful for friends whose love looks like paying for Fritzie's medical bills. For friends whose love looks like bunk beds. Whose love looks like childcare, and homeschooling, and just being present with us in the midst of their own crazytown busy lives. My cup overflows.
We have every reason to believe that eventually Fritzie will make a full recovery. But until then, we're keeping her as close by as possible. And she will be recovering in style in her new bed.
First, let me say that my use of the term pesky is not meant to imply that short-term teams are inherently pesky (although let's just all admit that they can be.) I use the term pesky to refer to my opinions regarding the whole conversation about short-term teams. And really, the issue is pesky to me personally. Because EVERY time I think I've made a call on how I feel, I consider something new that changes my mind.
A few caveats to mention before I dig into things.
I can only speak from experience in terms of short-term teams in Haiti. I've have no experience any other place.
I have not studied this issue academically. I have read some books and articles about it, (and there are A LOT of opinions) but what I am saying is founded almost entirely on my experience with short-term teams. And I have experience as a participant, as a host, and as an outside observer.
Our family does not host short-term teams anymore. We used to. And honestly the decision to stop was not centered around most of the issues below, but was far more selfish in nature. We just couldn't keep our family all on the same page while hosting a group of short-termers for a week or two at a time. (That being said, we do love to have visitors in our home... people who want to come and just experience Haiti, I will get to that in a future post.)
So here we go. Today I want to talk about my first short-term team.
If you believe the creation story in the Bible, you know that God created Adam and Eve. And there's this verse in Genesis that talks about how God created mankind in his image. Notice this, it's not just that God created a single man and a single woman in his image, but that he created mankind in his image. So what's my point? My point is that the whole of mankind is created in his image. If we want to know God more and more, it makes sense that we would need to get to know more of the mankind he created in his image.
I was almost in my thirties before I really understood that, but I got a glimpse of that right after high school. I lived all of my childhood up until 18 years of age in New Jersey, and then I moved to North Carolina for college. I couldn't believe the differences I saw between people in "The North" and in "The South." It was pretty crazy. And it wasn't just the way people talked. It was the way people treated each other. And it was the things people seemed to value. And I don't just mean the unsweet vs. sweet tea thing. ;) (Team unsweet all the way, baby!)
But I was 28 the first time I left the country. This time it was on a short-term team to Haiti. And in a single moment, that moment when I walked out of the Port au Prince airport, there was this instant and shocking paradigm shift that told me my life would never be the same. It was so jarring that I can still remember it very clearly. It was this realization that the kind of photos I'd see in National Geographic actually happened in real life. That was shocking. I guess I knew that in my brain somewhere, but seeing it with my own eyes-- yeah, that was something different.
My short-term team experience was so super stereotypical. We came in loaded heavy with army duffels full of supplies. We had matchy-matchy t-shirts. Our said (and I am not making this up) "Christian Servant" on the front. (No really, seriously, I am NOT making this up.) I asked every typical short-term team member question- "Where is everyone walking to?" "Why is there so much garbage?" "How can these children's moms just give them away?" Our hosts were a couple who were new full-time missionaries, having lived in Haiti less than a year. But since they lived there, I figured they knew all the answers and accepted their answers as truth. After all, they spoke Kreyol.
I wore long skirts and a bandana over my head. I hugged and kissed countless random children I did not know. I fell in love with one specific baby there and cried and cried and prayed and prayed over his plight.
Short-termer, Gwenn Mangine, circa 2005. Exhibit A- head coverings, holding a Haitian baby 24/7,
I came armed with everything from REI that I might need- things like camping toilet paper, tons of hand sanitizer (in little bottles that strapped to my belt loops or backpack, AND in a bigger bottle to refill the little bottles), waterless shampoo, and 97% DEET bug repellant. (Note: I am not suggesting causation, but I did give birth to a child with a severe heart defect after that... so perhaps we should leave the 97% DEET to, like, well, no one.)
We did a VBS in the same place that did the same VBS with different American teams the previous three weeks in a row. It was in Kreyol and was called "Peche Pou Jezi." Now, knowing what I know now, this is a little big funny. The intent was that it was to mean, "Fishing for Jesus" and the kids learned about Jesus' disciples who were fishermen and about how Jesus talked about how they'd no longer fish for fish, but that they'd fish for men. The problem is that the word peche can also be translated as sin. So in retrospect, it was unclear if the theme song we sang "N'ap peche pou Jezi" was to mean "We're fishing for Jesus" or "We're sinning for Jesus." (But I digress.)
We were walked around the village and I was introduced to several of the children including Jackson, the local vodou priest's son. An adorable boy with beautiful locs, I thought he was the cutest kid I'd ever met. I gave him my favorite wooden beaded necklace that I wore every day of my life before I left (see pics above and below for pics of said necklace). And while I am on the subject of giving things away, I gave pretty much everything else away, too. I left almost everything there, tossing it into the "missionary barrel" to be distributed in the community. (Sidenote: One of the jobs we were given on our short-term team was organizing the shelves in the bathroom. These shelves were BUSTING with supplies that other team members had left behind... you know, camping toilet paper, big and little bottles of hand sanitizer, waterless shampoo, and 97% DEET bug repellant.)
And finally, although I am embarrased to admit this, I will show the following picture.
Short-termer, Gwenn Mangine. Circa 2005. Exhibit B- cornrows.
I got my hair cornrowed. Yep. Just owning that I did this. As you can see, I really did do EVERY stereotypical thing. I feel a little silly now, looking back on this trip. But y'all it was great for me. (For the people hosting us and the Haitians we came into contact with-- yeah, jury is still out on that.) And it is 100% truth to say that this trip was life-changing for me. It was the beginning of our family's journey towards living in Haiti and the whole Mangine Many adventure. So I will always be grateful for this trip. But looking back now, I can see so clearly how my future, and the lives of the Haitians I encountered on my trip would have been better had some things been different. (I will get to that in Part 3 of this series.)
That's where I am going to leave you for now.
Stay tuned in the next few days for Part 2, where I will detail what it was like to host short-term teams.