He lives in Cite Soleil, Haiti. He ran up to me with arms spread wide and a toothless grin, oh what a smile. He clamored on my back. The only thing he had on was an over sized green sweatshirt despite the 95 degree temperature. It was clear he yearned for affection and it delighted me to hold him.
He was one of the children that I had often thought about since my first visit to Haiti four months prior. My husband was taken by him as well in his first visit which created an even stronger bond. His name is Jamal.
It was clear by the way they attempted to dismiss him from the group that the other kids in the area didn't like Jamal. They motioned to his toothless smile and waved him off. They shook their heads at him, letting me know that he didn't merit my attention. This made my desire to hold him even stronger.
Jamal hopped onto my back and I walked away from the unfriendly group so I could give Jamal a little comfort without the distraction. Moments later I felt sharp jabbing at my back and legs. The older kids had found sticks and used them as prods. Worse yet, I discovered I wasn't their target. Jamal took the majority of the abuse to his bare backside! I looked at Jamal and expected to see tears and face wincing with pain and humiliation.
Instead, I saw Jamal's beautiful smile.
At that moment something powerful flipped inside me. Questions raced through my mind. How many years has Jamal suffered this painful abuse, that he was able to completely ignore it? How can a group of children be so cruel? What have these children witnessed to make them act like this? Anger flared. I tried calm down. I instinctually set Jamal down behind me. I chewed out the group for being so cruel. They turned and slinked away.
I picked up Jamal again, determined to protect him for as long as I could. It broke my heart to leave him.
This was the beginning of our investigation into the Haitian culture which lead us to discover the deep injustice of the Restavek that over 225,000 Haitian children suffer.