By Loren Watson
The Chronicle of Higher Education lists seven qualities as essential in students for learning to take place; they are: awareness, interest, motivation, relevance, engagement, reinforcement and support.
The conditions present in the life of a Restavek child in Haiti, however, make the existence of most of these qualities impossible.
A State of Poverty
“Poverty reduces a child’s readiness for school because it leads to poor physical health and motor skills, diminishes a child’s ability to concentrate and remember information, and reduces attentiveness, curiosity and motivation.” (The Effects of Poverty on Education, ChildFund International)
When a child is living as a Restavek, they are in a state of poverty. They tend to be fed much less and subjected to a great deal of hard labor.
Haiti Now’s Efforts
Haiti Now has worked to provide textbooks, tuition, and school supplies to make it possible for Restavek children to succeed in school. But if their lives are not changed fundamentally, if they aren’t removed from these actual conditions, learning and real progress toward a better life are extremely difficult.
What is Needed
Restavek children often don’t have enough food to eat, have the barest of possessions, and rarely have a room or even a bed to sleep on. They wake before the family to fetch water and begin preparing their breakfast and are only allowed to sleep when all the household chores are finished, often well after the family has gone to sleep. This is the custom; it is how Restavek children have always lived.
But in addition to not having enough sustenance or sleep to be able to learn well, there is the reality of abuse in their lives. Cruelly, these children are regularly subjected to verbal, physical and sexual abuse by the families they spend their time serving.
Therefore, the experience of trying to go to school, for the few who occasionally get to do this, can be very difficult in itself. Much of the girls’ mental energy is occupied with trying to process the abandonment and abuse by people they should be able to trust. Their minds are busy trying to cope with their living situations, trying to normalize and process the trauma, and are not available to learn in the way they need to be.
According to the Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative (TLPI), current neurobiological and psychological studies have shown that traumatic experiences in childhood can weaken concentration, memory, as well as organizational and language abilities.
A TLPI article called Helping Traumatized Children Learn reads, “Learning to read, write, take part in a discussion, and solve mathematical problems rests on many underlying foundations—organization, comprehension, memory, the ability to produce work, engagement in learning, and trust. … Not surprisingly, trauma … (can) thwart the establishment of a coherent sense of self, compromise the ability to attend to classroom tasks and instructions, interfere with the ability to organize and remember new information, and hinder the grasping of cause-and-effect relationships—all of which are necessary to process information effectively.”
It is imperative that Restavek girls be allowed to leave their brutal circumstances and given a chance to attend the residential school Haiti Now plans to build.
What Could Be
Haiti Now is raising funds to build a residential school for Restavek girls in Haiti.
The plan is for a school that in three years will provide the equivalent of a sixth-grade education, incorporating problem-solving and reasoning skills as well as attending to social and emotional development. This includes the essential areas of conflict resolution, leadership, social interaction, creativity and technology.
A key component of the services provided at the school will be mental health, to allow the girls to begin to heal from the abuse suffered while in domestic servitude. A school designed with educators and staff who are trained specifically for children who have suffered abuse is essential to meet their needs.
Another major aspect of the school will be its full-time, in-tandem business incubation curriculum, which will have as a paramount focus the teaching of collaborative skills.
Hope for the Future
With your support, Haiti Now could begin to provide these key components to Restavek girls of Haiti. Please consider contributing today.