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Unleashed! The truth I learned about sexual abuse in the Haitian Community

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In the wake of the Me Too movement, I was happy to see so many women standing up and taking a stance on what happened to them, it not only shed a light on the issue,however, it also made a lot of women feel like they were not alone. Speaking out on something that hurts you is therapy at least it was for me. This wasn't an easy thing especially being Haitian. I was told not to say anything to anyone for years, and the last time I did decide to tell someone I was told I was cursed. My secrets and the feeling of loneliness and shame that I felt was also a lot of what so many other victims in my community felt. The stories I was told sounded all too familiar with the same similarities. A victim being abused and scared into silence by family members or friends to save face and not make the family look bad, or because the family didn't want to lose out on finances that the accused was providing. I quite frankly was tired of it. What has caused this stigma in the Haitian community? The numbers of vitims in the Haitian community that were coming to me with their stories were so much I just thought to myself there just had to be someone else besides me that is concerned about this topic and the effects that it has on our people especially other victims in the Haitian community. So I decided to some research and came across nothing that specifically talked about sexual abuse in the Haitian community, I shouldn't have been at all surprised, the topic of sex, in general, is something that is taboo and you're typically labeled if you talk about it openly. So of course, sexual abuse wouldn't be any different. To me this was not right, I couldn't understand it. It was one thing to help victims that came to me as much as I could or attempt to direct them in the right direction to get help but I found it difficult because of the mindset that most of the victims had. Not only were they ashamed or afraid that their family members would disown them. But the thought of getting help (whether that meant seeing a therapist and/ or discussing what happened to them or not) was terrifying to most of them, most were taught that your business and the things that happen at home should stay between you. I knew then that this was something that will go on from generation to generation and become a cycle if no one was willing to speak up openly about sexual abuse to raise awareness and bring light on the issue so something can be done about it. That is why I decided to make a trip. 

Let The Mission Begin!

Growing up Haitian I loved everything about the culture. From the food to the music. But what I could never understand was the ways of the people. This became even more confusing to me when I visited Haiti when I was younger. I couldn't understand how the men there found it normal to try to holla at a young fifteen years old who was young enough to be their daughter (Speaking from experience). I couldn't understand why people found it ok to automatically comment on a person weight because they were heavier than some. Making comments such as " Ou tro gro" (your too big) or ou manje trop (you eat too much). I realized that my people had no filter and didn't care about how some of their words and ways can cause a long time affect on an individual. Growing up I had been called everything from bef, kochon, salop because of my weight a lot of which had affected me, but not as much as the sexual harassment, and catcalling I endured while there. I had made a vow that I wouldn't go back but there I was on May 24, 2018, getting off a plane in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The country was exactly what I remembered the busy motorcycles, buses, and cars going back and forth with limited to no street lights lol. With people walking up and down the busy streets. The mountain view with houses that looked like they were piled on top of each other lol. The ladies and men on the corner selling bread, pate kode, and souveniers. The scenery and everything about it made it feel like paradise. 

The view of the mountain in Petionville

The view of the mountain in Petionville

Too bad I didn't have much time to do much site seeing. My mission on getting information about sexual abuse victims, and how to get services provided to them in the country had started the moment I got there, I interviewed people connected in the community and government on the topic. Unfortunately, some have requested to remain anonymous so their names won't be mentioned. Lets just say after talking to several police officers one being a chief, and a government official with connections in the National Palace it was said to me that the topic of sexual assault was taboo and that its just not something that people in the country talk about. There are no shelters or service centers for victims and in some cases, without real proof (Basically the perpetrator being caught in the act) it's really a he said she said case and reports of abuse are not looked into. With all the questions I asked to find out where I can locate victims I was directed to the oprphanages. Good thing before my trip I was put in contact with an owner of an orphanage in La Plain, Haiti. Otherwise my whole mission would be aborted lol. My first two days there I attempted to meet with the owner and his wife, however because of lack of connection (me relying on my service and WhatsApp) everytime I tried scheduled a meeting place with the owner, I was told to call back when I got close to the location and then when I tried to call I couldnt get through. I was starting to get so discouraged and cried like a baby, throwing temper tantrums and all lol. Finally That night in my wifi location I received a call from the owner who decided that it would be easier if he just came to us the next morning where we were. 

I woke up excited to visit the orphanage. Although I slept late the night before you would've thought that I slept for hours. Your girl woke up at 7 am like she had to be at work lol. I got ready representing my organization with my Gift of Hope shirt (See picture below). I went for breakfast waiting for the owner of the orphanage to come to pick us up. Hours went by and no one showed and there was no phone call. I called and the phone did not ring at all This cant be happening I said to myself. From the day I got there I had been trying to meet with the owner and his wife and jsut when it was supposed to finally happen another probem came about. I was ready to cry all over again. I sat in the lobby of our hotel i began to pray. I knew that God brought me out to Haiti for a purpose and reason and despite what was going on I was going to fulfill the mission. Finally, after another hour I decided to call the owner again, and guess what?! He answered aye!!!! He explained that his phone died and had no way to contact me he attempted to have the front desk call me but there was no answer so he left. Although he couldn't come around and pick me up I decided to have to get the address to the orphanage and have him speak with our driver to provide additional directions (if you ever been to Haiti you'll know that a simple address doesn't always cut it so I needed him to give details).

President & Founder of The Gift of Hope 

President & Founder of The Gift of Hope 

The drive to La Plain was about twenty five to thirty minutes. When we got to the the street where the orphanage was located the first thing that caught my attention was the mountain view. (See photo below)

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I was filled with excitement and nervousness when pulling into the gates. The noise that filled the air was music,laughter, and children chatter. I was amazed at how neat the place was. When people think of an orphanage and Haiti in the same sentence unfortunately the image that comes to mind is that of what you see on television (ie: shirtless dirty children who look malnourished). As I walked into the crowd of children all eyes were on me, with two hand full of bags with donations to provide. It was defenitley a celebration going on and whatever it was I was happy to be apart. I was greeted by the owner of the orphanage who greeted me with a hug. I was led to a kitchen area where they were busy preparing meals. I was then greeted by his wife who runs the place. She also greeted me with a hug and walked me over to a lobby area where she introduced herself. She explained that we visted at a perfect time as they were celebrating their 13year anniversary since opening the orphanage. God is good I said to myself, I thought about the things I went thorugh to finally get to the orphanage. God does everyting for a reason me not being able to visit the day I got there was only so that it could work out to come on the day of the anniversary to witness the celebration, love and laughter that filled the place. It was such an honor and blessing. After viewing the facility, from the kitchen, library, school, bedrooms, and bathrooms that are for the children I got to sit down and get answers that I had been longing for my entire trip.  

The children playing. The the left woman standing in line for food. 

The children playing. The the left woman standing in line for food. 

Here I am pictured with the head of the orphanage discussing The Gift of Hope and my book Unleashed (From Pain to Purpose)

Here I am pictured with the head of the orphanage discussing The Gift of Hope and my book Unleashed (From Pain to Purpose)

Here is what I learned from our talk:

  • There are over forty children in the orphanage. Their ages run from ages 1-17
  • Out of the forty children, about 25 have been sexually abused. 
  • Most of the children that they take care of were a product of rape and their mother no longer wanted them.
  • There are no services for victims of abuse they will talk to them but that's all they can do. Her exact words to me were "The topic is a sad topic and to help them I wouldn't know where to start. How can someone who has never been sexually abused help someone who has".
  • There are a lot of behavioral problems with the children that have been abused personally, mentally, and academically. It takes a lot of dedication and time to get them on the right path.  

After gathering this information. I was then introduced to one of the young ladies who's situation they labeled as the worst. The young lady (I won't picture for privacy reasons) was eight years old when a pastor and five of his friends (all leaders of the church) had sex with her, all taking turns. She was abandoned by family and the orphanage took her in. My first question to them was what are you doing to help her? Her response was they prayed for her but there isn't much to do, they are trying to get her to open up about what happened to her, but she only blames herself and has a lot of questions. She wakes up in the middle of the night with nightmares, lashes out on the other children, and wanted to harm herself. The tears flowed down my face. I could no longer hold it in. I spoke with them on pointers to help the young lady and the other victims, exchanged my information with them, and advised that I would send translated brochure and documents on how to help the victims. We discussed the support group an getting it started and starting counseling services. I know from experience that it will take time heal from sexual abuse and even then its a battle but some help is better than none, so that the pain isn't one that holds you back.  

After much hugs, tears, and them praying for me. I decided to join the fun and celebrate 13years of hope and love that the orphanage provides. (See some of the photos I was able to capture below)  

Overall Haiti was fun after the orphanage I was able to truly spend time with family that I haven't seen in years. I was able to visit my husband family in Leogane who meet me for the first time. To be honest there's a lot of work to be done and it will take more than just little ol me to do it.

What's Next!

Our plan is to make several trips through the year to facilitate support groups through different orphanages in Haiti, Provide training to those in contact with victims, and to organize group therapy sessions and one one therapy sessions if needed for victims. Of course, we cannot do this alone and will need your help.

If you would like to be apart of the next trip as a volunteer please email us at thegiftofhopeolrlando@gmail.com for more info.

To donate supplies such as notebooks, paper, pens etc to supply to the children who will take part of the support group please contact 407-906-2922 for drop off location address.

Any monetary donations can also be provided so we can purchase and provide food, transportation, and provide medical help to the victims needed. Please click the DONATE button below to donate.

 Please email thegiftofhopeorlando@gmail.com with any questions.