A Poem for Haiti

I typically do not write rhyming poetry, but yesterday’s NaPoWriMo challenge was to write a one-stanza poem in the ottava rima form. The form has eight lines, with a rhyming pattern of abababcc, in iambic pentameter.

This poem is about the hopelessness of restavek, a system of child slavery that affects approximately 300,000 Haitian children.

Pov Timoun (Poor Child)

by Jan Brown

When I first came to live with them I wept

each night. Nightmares…time moved too slow.

I tried to sleep! Into my room he crept.

I couldn’t count the lashes or the blows.

I couldn’t count the promises not kept.

I lugged his books to school, but could not go.

They see me as a tool for joy or pain–

but never pov timoun, never again.


If you would like to find out more about restavek, and the efforts being made to abolish the system, I encourage you to watch Jean Robert Cadet’s short speech at the 2012 Oslo Freedom Forum, below, or visit the Restavek Freedom Foundation web site.  You can also access my previous blog posts on the subject here.

A poem to raise awareness

May is International 5 Line Poetry Month.  I offer this tanka to friends, family and followers. It is a small thought on the condition of Haitian restaveks, child slaves who are given or sold into domestic servitude. May 2012 International 5 Line Poetry Month

can’t hear the children
enslaved and abused, taken
from their families
given, sold as restavek
childhood ruined, conscripted

In the small country of just 9.8 million people, including 3.4 million children, approximately 300,000 children are estimated to live in restavek. The kreyol word “restavek” is derived from the French “reste avec,” which translates literally to “rest with.”  However, these vulnerable children don’t get much rest.

Haitian children of poor families are often given or sold to families of greater means, often in the hope that the child will have access to education which is unavailable at home. Unfortunately, in most cases, the restavek child is not allowed to attend school, and is too busy with his or her domestic work from dawn well past dusk. With no indoor plumbing, restavek children are often used to carry huge clay jugs of water from a community well and remove/empty the family’s chamber pots.  They do laundry, help with cooking of food they are not allowed to eat and, in the most ironic insult, carry the books of the “real” children of the house as those children walk to and from a school that restaveks cannot attend. Restavek children, especially girls, may be sexually abused and may be kicked out and living on the street when they reach the age at which wage laws apply (fifteen). Without education, they are at risk of further unemployment and abuse.

The Restavek Freedom Foundation is working to end child slavery in Haiti by raising awareness, working with clergy and lobbying the government.  In the meantime, they are helping restavek children by providing advocacy, counseling and transitional residence. To help those currently living in restavek, they approach  “host” families to advocate for education of the restavek child. Universal education is not required or guaranteed by Haitian law, so even elementary school costs money.

You might want to visit their website and even sponsor a child’s education http://restavekfreedom.org