I travel to Haiti and other poor countries as part of my work for a large international charity. While in Haiti this week, I met a restavek girl.
Restaveks are children who are given or sold to families in exchange for food, board and education. It comes from the French term meaning, "to stay with." Restavek children are frequently starved, beaten, sexually abused and do no attend school. They are nothing more than child slaves.
The young girl I met this week lives as a slave. To protect her identity, I'll call her Julie. She gets up at 6 a.m. to get water (many poor Haitian homes have no running water and fetch it from a standpipe) and then walks an hour to a feeding program. She gets food, brings it back and then cleans and does chores. At night she goes out on the street at 7 p.m. to sell light bulbs. She returns at 9 p.m.
If Julie doesn't sell enough light bulbs, she gets beaten. Julie talked to me through a translator and tears started dripping down her cheeks as she whispered how she was whipped with an electrical cord. She showed us her scars.
Julie hasn't seen her mother in four years. Burdened with hunger and five other children to feed, Julie's mother moved to an area where she has land and left Julie with a friend who promised "to take care of her." The friend sold her into slavery.
Julie's mother doesn't know where she is.
As Julie cried as she told me how she was beaten, I cried, too.
Restavek children inspired my third Egyptian historical, THE COBRA & THE CONCUBINE. In the story, Badra is sold into slavery at age 11, raped and beaten by a cruel sheikh. She eventually escapes, and finds happiness with the man she loves. After hearing the stories of restavek children, I wanted to create a happy ending for a child sold into slavery who finds true love in the end. This is why I write romance; because real life doesn't always deliver happy endings.
Authorities have been notified about Julie and there is a place where she can live that is solely for former restavek children. For me as an author, fiction sometimes is created from fact. Sometimes it startles and saddens me to see how both blend.
Badra in THE COBRA & THE CONCUBINE had her happy ending.
I hope and pray that Julie, the restavek slave girl, has one as well.