Monday, November 15, 2010

The Hard Part

I really enjoy being here in Haiti. The missionaries I am working with are fantastic, and I love my students. I am looking forward to skipping winter weather, and it's awfully nice to have so many people falling over themselves just say hello to me. It makes me feel a little like a rock star.

As much as I love being here, though, there are aspects of the culture that are difficult to deal with. This morning I was a bit overwhelmed by some of them. Awhile ago I began reading a book called Restavec by Jean Robert Cadet. It's a memoir written by a man who was a part of Haiti's socially accepted child slavery. While I haven't seen any evidence of child slavery in the two months I've lived here, last night I was talking to some friends about it. They told me stories about families in mountain villages who send their children to live with relatives or someone they (kind of) know in the city. The family is often told the child will receive an education, be well fed, and be generally taken care of. However when the families go to visit their children or to pick them up, they learn that the child has been forced into slavery. Sometimes the child has been sold or given to someone else and the parents can't find them. It's really very sad because it's a socially accepted part of the culture (at least for the wealthy who are using the kids as slaves).

My friends also explained to me that if a woman has a child from a previous relationship and marries another man, the child is treated as a slave to the rest of the family. For example, there's a woman in Gramothe who had a daughter. Her husband died, and she wanted to become involved with another man. She knew that her daughter would be treated like a slave to the man and any kids she had with him, so she made the tough choice to give her daughter up for adoption. My heart broke for her and the daughter she doesn't have to hold any more.

And then there's the whole corporal punishment issue. Corporal punishment is definitely alive and well in Haiti. Teachers have switches or belts they carry around with them. The principal frequently has a switch in his hand. Sometimes the students are made to kneel on the cement for periods of time as a punishment. I don't think anyone in Haiti has ever heard of positive reinforcement! It's no wonder my students are constantly telling me they like the way I teach. I don't use any of the classroom management techniques they are accustomed to!

I don't share this information with you to make you think poorly of Haitians or their culture. Not every Haitian approves of child slavery, just as not every American condones drug use. The Haitian culture is not bad or wrong. It just has issues like every other culture in the world. I share this information simply to give you a glimpse into what's on my heart. I also don't want to give the rose tinted view of life here. While I like being here, there are parts that are difficult.

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