Over the past three weeks Hurricanes Fay, Gustav, Hanna and Ike have inundated Haiti, leaving the vulnerable island-nation more devastated than ever. On September 9, I received the following text message from Canès Maignan, a resident of Fond des Blancs, Haiti (translated from Haitian Creole): “Hello Tamara, Good morning, I’m asking you please to not forget me in the rain, because life has become more difficult for me here in Haiti since the hurricanes. Please don’t let me down. God be with you. Thank you, Canès Maignan.”
I first met Canès’ wife Marie-Thérèse in July 2006, when Jocelyn McCalla and I traveled to Fond des Blancs to conduct a training workshop for COSEDERF — Fond des Blancs’ Children’s Rights Committee — which had just formed the month before and was requesting our guidance on launching a campaign to eliminate the restavèk system and ensure access to quality primary education for the area’s children. Marie-Thérèse has been an active member of the committee since its inception. A year later, while accompanying journalists Dane Liu and Carmen Russell on a trip to Haiti to bring the issue of the restavèk system to light and introduce them to COSEDERF, I met Marie-Thérèse’s family and visited her home.
It’s hard to imagine that “life has become more difficult” for Canès, Marie-Thérèse and their children. When I visited them in May 2007 it already seemed way too hard. The six of them live in a space that’s about 10 ft x 10 ft. They all sleep on the dirt floor, and every day is a struggle to put food on the table and send their children to school. The only bed is reserved for Marie-Thérèse’s elderly mother, who stays in a precarious shack right next to theirs. Hoping that he could get an education in Port-au-Prince, Marie-Thérèse sent their son Mathieu to live with her sister there. Instead of going to school his life was reduced to doing the work of the house. Like tens of thousands of other children in Haiti, he became a child slave, a restavèk.
Marie-Thérèse and her son Mathieu were featured in Dane Liu’s and Carmen Russell’s “Haiti’s Lost Generation” which aired on September 21, 2007 on the public television international affairs series “Foreign Exchange: Where America Meets the World” with Fareed Zakaria (the coverage on child slavery in Haiti in this piece starts at minute 17:59 on the video – it’s “Show 338:” at http://foreignexchange.tv/).
Armed with a high school education but faced with an eighty-percent unemployment rate, Canès has tried to support his family and make a living through operating a small nursery and making hanging planters. It’s an environmentally sound idea in an ecologically devastated country. However, for his cash-strapped community buying plants is a luxury not often indulged.
A $200-donation from Maplewood, NJ resident Debi Sullivan made it possible for Canès and Marie-Therese to bring Mathieu back home last year. In fact, Canès told me that that money is what kept his family and him alive after an accident that severed one of his fingers, making it impossible for him to work for a while. Recently my mom and I sent the Maignan family $100 to get their children ready for school. However, the money we sent is no match for the four hurricanes that have taken what little the Maignan’s have.
Digicel’s bold vision of making cell phone use affordable in a poor country like Haiti (which does not have a functioning telecommunications system) means that many Haitians, like Canès, have access to a cell phone (his or someone else’s) helping to break some of their isolation. Jocelyn’s and my work to help Fond des Blancs’ Children’s Rights Committee organize also helped to establish an informal communication network giving people a voice so that they don’t have to wonder and wait in silence. I highly recommend that government and non-government entities take note of such networks when taking meaningful steps to prepare for Haiti’s next disaster.
Meanwhile, people like Canès are left to pick up the pieces of what is left of their lives. If you would like to help, we can make sure that any money you give is sent directly to Canès Maignan and his family. (Please be aware that while people in Haiti desperately need water, food and clothing, trying to ship these items to them at this time is not at all practical. In emergency situations, generally financial gifts are most useful. For more information please see the Center for International Disaster Information’s guidelines.
In Canes’ case any amount will help. If you would like to send a check, please make it out to JMC Strategies with “Storm Aid 2008” written in the memo line, and we will send you a receipt along with proof of wire transfer to Canès Maignan. You can send your gift to Canès in care of JMC Strategies, PO Box 1143, Maplewood, NJ 07040, or you can make an online donation. Thank you for caring.