"This has to end." A Child Protection Brigade Leader Steps In To Save an Abused Slave Girl.
Petion-Ville, Haiti—Tension was building last fall and everyone in Reginald’s Port-au-Prince neighborhood was frightened.
In the summer, 64 members of the Pyèsili neighborhood had graduated from Beyond Borders’ six-month-long child rights training program; and 11 of these new Child Rights Activists had been selected and trained to serve as the neighborhood’s first Child Protection Brigade.
With more than 500 neighbors attending their inauguration ceremony, everyone wanted to see if this new volunteer Child Protection Brigade would have any real power to stop the exploitation and abuse of children. The authority of this new body was about to be tested.
Word had spread that a particularly violent neighbor, known to routinely beat a 13-year-old girl living with his family in restavèk slavery, had issued another threat. Anyone who intervened to help free this child—whom we will call Marie—would pay dearly.
Even Reginald—president of the newly launched Child Protection Brigade—felt intimidated.
“I have to tell you, this guy is dangerous,” Reginald said. He and his fellow Brigade members debated with neighbors about how and when to act. “Many people told us to leave this guy alone, that he doesn’t play around,” Reginald added.
Just days later, on November 17th, Reginald took the first step that freed Marie from slavery and ultimately led to her being reunited with her family.
That day, Marie came wandering down the street, dazed, bloodied and bruised. A growing crowd of neighbors trailed behind her.
“She was crying, her clothes were torn and she was bleeding,” Reginald said. “I asked her what happened.”
Standing in the street, Marie recounted to Reginald and his neighbors the brutal attack she’d just suffered at the hands of her tormentor. He stabbed her in the shoulder after he had become enraged at how long she took to fetch water from the neighborhood spigot.
“At that point I just thought, this has to end,” Reginald said, adding, “Despite our fears, we had to act.”
Reginald took Marie and immediately headed for the police station. Some in the crowd followed behind while others fled rather than risk being seen.
Arriving at the station, Reginald was determined to get the police to act as well.
“Sometimes, if a child is poor, they won’t do a thing to help her,” Reginald said. “No one wants to help.” Clutching his Child Protection Brigade badge in his hand, Reginald said, “But I stood before them and said, ‘What are you going to do for this child?’”
Reginald’s determination got action. An officer immediately took the case. But it was Reginald—free of the fear that once gripped him and his neighbors—who would first confront the man who had enslaved Marie, even before the police arrived.
“I wasn’t scared anymore,” Reginald said as he recounted how he came across Marie’s abuser shortly after leaving the police station. The man had fled his home and was hiding behind an old car in the neighborhood, trying to avoid detection by the police.
“I walked up to him and said, ‘Come here. I want to talk to you,’” Reginald recalled.
Protesting, the man told Reginald, “I bought her clothes. I sent her to school. I didn’t mean to beat her.”
But Reginald would have none of it.
“You did more than beat her. You stabbed her. She was bleeding,” Reginald countered. “Go to the police station,” Reginald told the man, urging him to turn himself in to authorities.
Just three days after Reginald took Marie to the police station and helped spark an investigation that led to the arrest of the abuser, Marie was back home in Haiti’s rural Artibonite valley with her family.
Reginald reflected on what it means to challenge fear in a community and win.
“It’s like dominoes. If you line up the dominoes and then take one and knock it down, then the rest fall,” he said.
Members of the Pyesili Child Protection Brigade go door to door through their neighborhood. They get to know families and children, answer questions, explain their role and discuss the importance of protecting children.
Helping Marie secure her freedom may have been the most dramatic moment in the new life of this Child Protection Brigade, but broader change is touching the lives of even children who aren’t living in restavèk slavery.
Through formal home visits and casual conversations, the members of the Brigade are changing the prevailing attitude toward children and helping parents find non-violent alternatives for discipline.
And what is happening in this neighborhood of Pyèsili is happening in more than two dozen other Port-au-Prince communities. Neighborhood by neighborhood the movement to end child slavery and secure every child a loving, nurturing home is growing each day.
“Our vision is that this movement spreads from person to person—and in doing so becomes something concrete for everyone,” Reginald said.
Partner Profile: Chris Adams
It means so much to me to know that children in this neighborhood now have courageous leaders trained and committed to standing up for them. I can’t imagine a more meaningful investment.Chris Adams Partner/Team Leader, Neighborhood Team #1
Chris Adams has never met Marie, the girl Reginald helped free in the story above. And it’s hard to imagine that they have anything common that connects their lives.
Chris grew up in Los Angeles with a stable, loving family and went to excellent schools, securing advanced degrees from Rutgers and Stanford. He’s held a series of high-profile jobs in government and business and now works in Washington DC for a White House agency.
Marie, on the other hand, spent much of her childhood enslaved and abused far from the protection of her own family.
Last spring Chris made a decision that connected his life to Marie’s. Chris responded to the No Child a Slave Campaign by partnering with the neighborhood of Pyèsili. His support allowed Beyond Borders to train dozens of Child Rights Activists in this neighborhood and create the new Child Protection Brigade that intervened to protect Marie from her abuser.
Even before this Chris had something in common with Marie and many other children in Haiti. He was born to parents who decided to give him up to others. What that meant in the U.S. was that Chris was adopted.
Had this happened in Haiti, though, Chris knows that he might have been sent away and enslaved like Marie. And had he been born in the U.S. a century ago, he might have fallen into a form of child servitude that still existed in the U.S. even into the 1920s.
But a social movement in the U.S. made this practice unacceptable and secured broad legal protections for children like Chris. By the time he was born, systems were in place to vet and secure loving and stable adoptive parents.
Chris benefited from the success of the same kind of social movement that Beyond Borders is helping people build in Haiti.
Deeper than the motivation this connection provided Chris is the knowledge and conviction he draws from his faith. “We’re called to love one another as God loves us,” Chris explains. “It doesn’t matter where a child is born. We’re called to love that child and work for that child to receive the same care and nurture we would give our own children.”
Chris recently committed to renewing his partnership with Pyèsili, moved by the success of local activists there.
“It means so much to me to know that children in this neighborhood like Marie now have courageous leaders trained and committed to standing up for them,” Chris explains. “The way Beyond Borders empowers the Haitian people to transform their own communities means that supporting this program will nurture change that is sustainable and enduring. I can’t imagine a more meaningful investment.”