In any humanitarian crisis, UUSC keeps an eye out for the people who are being overlooked, ignored, and exploited. Too often, those people are children. So when the government of the Dominican Republic, in a move fueled by deep-seated racism, revoked the citizenship of hundreds of thousands of people of Haitian descent and recently began deportations in earnest, UUSC turned to Zanmi Timoun (Friends of the Children), a longstanding partner in Haiti. UUSC and Zanmi Timoun are working together to ensure that deported children can find refuge, safety, and healing.
Founded in 2001, Zanmi Timoun advocates for, raises awareness of, and supports vulnerable youth in Haiti, especially those caught in the restavek system (child slavery). UUSC began working with Zanmi Timoun in the wake of the 2010 earthquake to provide care and protection for child survivors, including many who lost one or two parents in the earthquake and faced significant risk of trafficking and other forms of exploitation.
Youth face a number of serious challenges in Haiti after being deported from the Dominican Republic — or fleeing from the harassment and racially motivated violence that accompanies the deportations. No clear systems are in place to receive returnees in the border villages, and most children have no identification. Shelter is scarce, and returnees must lease accommodations at a price that is prohibitive for many families, let alone unaccompanied children. On top of that, returning children — most often traumatized and malnourished — endure a lack of health resources and a dearth of the special care that children need to survive and thrive.
With these challenges in mind, UUSC is working with Zanmi Timoun to create a strong presence in the border villages of Belladère and Fond Parisien with special attention to the needs of unaccompanied children, newborns, orphans, children with disabilities, and teenage mothers. To this end, Zamni Timoun is undertaking the following:
- Developing a registration process for returning children
- Training border monitoring committees and creating child protection committees
- Creating a recreational area and providing psychosocial support for traumatized youth
- Working to reunify deported children with family members in Haiti
- Meeting with local authorities and other community organizations to raise awareness of children’s struggles, rights, and needs in the midst of the deportation crisis
Zanmi Timoun has a track record of success that bodes well for these new endeavors. In their work supporting youth of all ages in all 10 departments of the country of Haiti, they have reintegrated 500 children who have been in restavek back into their families of origin. Zanmi Timoun runs two vocational centers that offer professional training, human rights education, and psychosocial services for youth within, or emerging from, restavek. More than 350 young women and men have learned skills in plumbing, sewing and batik, electricity, graphic design, and commercial baking. Not only that, Zanmi Timoun operates five community schools that serve more than 300 children each year.
Guylande Mesadieu, the coordinator and founder of Zanmi Timoun as well as a trained community organizer and lawyer who specializes in the rights of children and women, makes sure that the work doesn’t end with the provision of services. One of Zanmi Timoun’s priorities is advocating on national and international levels for stronger laws and policies to protect children and ensure their access to human rights. This helps push children’s rights forward on the structural scale — toward a future where no child will need to worry about being forced from the homes and communities they know and love.