Cazzie Reyes is a Researcher for the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center's Anti-Trafficking Programs. She graduated from Bradley University with a Bachelor's degree in International Studies and a minor in Women's Studies.
“In 2010, you know the earthquake [happened]. And my mom was dead. So, I was in a camp of men and women, and they took care of me. And then I met a woman named Anna. She was with the organization IOM (International Organization for Migration), and she helped me to have a better life…to meet someone to [sic] the foundation. So, I come there.”
On January 12, 2010 a 7.0 magnitude earthquake shook Haiti, claiming at least 230,000 lives and injuring 300,000 people. The natural disaster brought international attention to the small Caribbean country and gave wider exposure to the restavek system, a traditional practice perpetuated by poverty that forces children into domestic servitude. Typically, poorer families give their children to wealthier families because they cannot provide for them or hope that more affluent families will send their children to school. In the aftermath of the earthquake, many children lost family members or were abandoned and sent toorphanages. Debilitated by the earthquake’s aftershocks, Haitian officials were unable to wholly address the crisis faced by displaced children. Coupled with a lack of children’s rights/protections and the normalization of child servitude, children became highly vulnerable to traffickers wanting to sell them into the restavek system.
Rose, now 18 years old, was able to leave that system and is currently going to school.
“I’m in eighth grade. [Today] they were talking about the body. How to sit well, to not deform your bones.”
Rose has five years of school left before completing her secondary education, and she hopes to continue in higher education.
“Yeah, [my favorite subject] it’s science. Yes, I would like to go to university. I would like to study science manager and then a little bit of psychology. For the psychology, I would like to help the children that are traumatized. What motivates me to go to school is that without education, you can be nothing. Like you can’t work. You can’t do anything. I would like to change Haiti…to participate in developing Haiti.”
Even before the earthquake, Haiti had low literacy and school attendance rates. Only about 50% of school-aged children were enrolled in school. The earthquake further devastated the education system as nearly half the schools were damaged or destroyed. International, government, faith-based, private as well as non-profit organizations brought in – and continue to refine – programs meant to address the education gap while also providing necessary goods and holistic services.
It’s been three years since the IOM connected Rose to Restavek Freedom; in addition to continuing her education, Rose has had the safe space she needed to build social relationships with the adults and children in her community.
“My life has very changed because they teach me how to love people, how to be like in the society. They teach me a lot of things that I did not know before.”
Reflecting on friendship and family, Rose says, “Friendship means like, for me, when you have someone who is really your friend. This person help [sic] you when you are going through trouble. This person, they are here for you just to help you, to encourage, to give advice, to go forward. [Family means] a lot of things…they give you advice. They make you go to the good path, to go to the way of the future. They help you to not do the bad choice. I think family is a protector.”
The restavek system robs children of friendship and family and keeps the children in a cycle of poverty, physical exploitation and emotional abuse. Rose knows too well the harsh realities that restavek children live through but still believes a better world is possible.
“Freedom, for me, means life. Because when someone is enslaved, even though this person is living…but, otherwise, he is not living. The person cannot do everything he wants, everything that he likes to see. When the person is free, you can see this person smiling, this person sharing, treat[ing] people good. I would like to say to people to treat the children really good and to treat the people really good. To treat the kids really good, send them to school. Make them take the good direction…accepting Jesus. The children is [sic] the future. That’s all.”
The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center will be hosting "Motel X," an interactive exhibition that aims to educate visitors about human and labor trafficking in the Cincinnati area, from Jan. 11th to April 5th 2020. Plan a visit to Cincinnati, OH, USA to view this powerful exhibit.
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