In our last blog we described how Food for the Hungry has been working with local leaders in Haiti to raise awareness of child abuse and gender-based violence. This is the story of one such victim whose life was transformed by subsequent community intervention.
She never smiled, talked or played. She had never been to a day of school in her life. She never had the love or acceptance of a parent. She always had trouble making friends. She invariably used to walk alone.
Marie-Nicole is a 12 year-old girl living in the community of Totoye in Belladère. She lost her mum and dad and ended up in an unrelated family. She never had a chance to go to school, and was abused and neglected. In Haitian culture, she was known as a restavèk, or child slave. After the 2010 earthquake, a cousin Marthe welcomed her into her tiny house to end her suffering. But sadly she continued to be neglected. Marthe sent all her children to school, but not Marie-Nicole.
Everything changed in October 2010 when FH arrived. FH is committed to walking with churches, leaders and families to improve the lives of children by empowering families and existing structures within the community. Four women-mentors identified by the Community Development Committee of Totoye were trained by FH staff in protection issues, trauma and community counseling, to support vulnerable girls in their community in a 12-week support program. Esther, an aid-nurse, has four of her own children and works in community health for a local NGO, but she finds time once a week to spend quality time with a group of 10 girls.
At first, Marthe didn’t want Marie-Nicole to join the programme. She thought “a bad spirit took her soul” – she was too quiet. Although she was a good child, helping with most of the chores around the house, Marthe still abused and neglected her. “She won’t ever change, so why should she join the program?” Marthe said.
But Esther insisted and finally got approval from Marthe.
The first few weeks were difficult. No words, no participation in the discussions. She remained quiet, but God was working. She never missed a session, and one day Esther got her to smile. “I like the program. I have friends to play with,” said Marie-Nicole. Marthe was so surprised by the change in Marie-Nicole’s behavior that she asked if she could also join the programme, even though the age range is 10 to 17 years old. Since then, Marthe has been influenced by Esther and her Christian world-view, and has a different perception of children and how she should interact with them. She considers Marie-Nicole like her own child, no longer abusing her.
The change in Marie-Nicole’s life went further. “Now I go to church,” she said proudly. With FH financial support, the CDC of Totoye identified Marie-Nicole to benefit from a one-year school programme free of charge in the Jean-Nosyl Ebenezer School. She also received a school kit and Esther provided a school uniform.
Marie-Nicole now smiles, talks and plays. She attends school each day and has love and acceptance from her mother figure Marthe. She has friends and a support group. And today, thanks to the support of the community, FH and her relationship with God, Marie-Nicole’s life has been completely transformed.
Note: All names have been changed to protect the parties’ privacy.