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Haiti and Father Bernard Reiser
By Dave Hrbacek The Catholic Spirit

A few thousand Haitians are glad a local priest came out of retirement. Father Bernard Reiser decided to get back into active ministry last summer and took an assignment as pastor of St. Nicholas in New Market (Minnesota) in August. He wasted little time developing outreach projects.  After making several trips to Haiti over the past several years, he was aware of some practical needs.

First, there was food.  He approached a local farmer, Leander Wagner, and said he wanted to buy 10 tons of corn to ship to Haiti. Leander and the farmers 'donated 10 tons of shelled corn, put it in a container and it was shipped down to Miami and put on a ship to Haiti [in October]," Father Reiser said.

Then, there was water.
"We knew something had to be done because the people had no acceptable water for drinking or household use," he said.  "The [distribution] system was run down, not operable." Father Reiser believed the solution to the water problem was a truck to take water from wells located in Port Au Prince to outlying areas.  So, he turned to the St. Nicholas Knights of Columbus Council.  The Knights accepted the challenge and last week, sent a 6,000-gallon water truck to Miami, where it soon will be loaded onto a ship bound for Haiti.  The final hurdle is clearing U.S.

Although water currently is available to Haitians, a rundown distribution system combined with greed have driven up the price of drinking water and made it unaffordable for some.  Father Reiser and the Knights say they hope that the water truck will eliminate the problem.

One Knight, Bob Seykora, worked to both find and modifies the truck to make it suitable for transporting drinking water.  After canvassing New Market, he talked to a local contractor, Tim Rud, who donated a tractor and tank.  Seykora arranged to have a stainless steel replacement tank put on, then added another tank on a trailer.  He and a group of drivers drove the truck to Miami.

From there the truck will be in the hands of Kevin McClellan of St. Stephen in Minneapolis, who will go with the truck to Haiti and oversee its use.
The beneficiaries of the water truck will be residents of Citi Soliel, a section of Port Au Prince that lies about three miles from the nearest well.
'If I can deliver 20,000 gallons a day, I would be happy," McClellan said.
For the Knights, this is another item on a growing list of big charity projects.  They already have built two houses since the start of the new millennium, one given to a needy family and the other sold to raise money for pro-life causes.  Not bad for a group with only 50 active members.

"Our council has the faith to jump into any project," said Paul Laursen, the council's program director.  "We think big. . . . We'll build anything, we'll do anything.  "
Ex-Haiti Slave Fights To Help Kids 5 Dec 1999 
AP / IAN JAMES, Associated Press Writer

 As a child growing up in Haiti, Jean-Robert Cadet slept under   the kitchen table, washed the feet of the woman he served and  endured beatings with a leather whip.
He never celebrated his birthday, could only speak when spoken to, worked without pay, dusting the furniture, cleaning the  floor and sweeping the yard while other children played.

Cadet was a ``restavek'' -- a Haitian Creole term that means   ``staying with.'' 

It describes children whose parents, often poor,  give them to wealthier families as servants in hopes the children  will have food, schooling and a better life. The practice is widely  accepted in Haiti.
Cadet, now a teacher in Cincinnati, says restaveks are ``slave   children,'' and he is leading a campaign to rid Haiti of the  practice.

He has written a book titled "Restavec": From Haitian Slave Child to Middle-Class American,'' in which he recounts the labor,  neglect and violence that began when he was a young boy.  Restavek is the modern spelling. Cadet says he has met many Haitians who acknowledge isolated cases of abuse in the restavek system but believe it often helps  poor children who otherwise would be worse off.  ``My goal is to make the term restavek a social taboo.  Once you do that, the system will end.''

The use of children as domestic workers in Haiti has drawn the   attention of UNICEF and other groups that monitor children's  rights. Last year, the U.N. agency estimated the number of  restaveks in Haiti at 300,000. ``Domestic labor and mistreatment of restaveks often go   hand-in-hand,'' the UNICEF study said. ``These children live in  painful conditions.'' Restaveks are beaten more frequently than other children, and   young girls working as restaveks are often sexually abused, said  Dr. Louis Roy, the official ombudsman of Haiti.
 ``Must we put a stop to it? There is legislation. But it can't be implemented until the social situation improves.'' Restavek children are handed over to their new families when   they are old enough to work, often between 6 and 10 years old.  Cadet joined the family at age 4 and began working at 7.
Poverty is the primary force driving children into unpaid servitude in Haiti -- the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere - among the poorest nations in the world.

Nearly two centuries ago, African slaves in Haiti successfully  rebelled against French rule, and in 1804 created the first  independent black republic in the Western Hemisphere. But Haiti's  free population reinstituted servitude for children.

In his book, Cadet argues that restaveks ``are treated worse   than slaves, because they don't cost anything and their supply  seems inexhaustible.'' Seeking to bring attention to the issue, the National Coalition for Haitian Rights hosted more than 300 guests at a benefit in New  York on Nov. 5 and presented Cadet with an award.          ``We are raising the issue of slavery living and thriving among   us today,'' the group's executive director, Jocelyn McCalla, told  the crowd.

But one Haitian woman at the event, Michelle Burnadin, said her family previously had restaveks and had treated them well, making  sure they attended school and learned to read.
"I think it's good when the kids need help if they can find a   parent with a good heart. My mother treated them just like  family,'' she said. Two decades after leaving Haiti, though, she  said it now bothers her to remember that the restaveks referred to  her as "miss.''  "When I came here, I saw it was like the wrong thing,'' she   said. "It was kind of slavery. I see two sides of it, but what can  you do?'' McCalla said his group is urging initial steps such as stricter   enforcement of child abuse laws and requirements that children be  allowed to attend school. The system is too ingrained in the  society to be prohibited outright at first, he said. 

In Haiti, Social Affairs Minister Mathilde Flambert has said the  keeping of restaveks is a problem that should be addressed. But so  far, the government has done nothing.

Near Port-au-Prince, the Maurice Sixto Center in Carrefour   provides one hot meal of rice and vegetables each day to needy  children, most of them restaveks.          The center, founded a decade ago by a Roman Catholic priest,   attracts about 230 children each day and is funded by UNICEF, the  European Union and other groups. The children are taught to read  and write -- skills that many restaveks never learn.
 One 12-year-old boy at the center said he would like to become a   tailor. He said he sneaked to the center carrying a bucket, giving  the excuse that he was going to draw water. His back was bruised  from what he said was a beating.  A 12-year-old girl said her master once smeared her genitals   with hot red pepper to punish her for some misdeed.

Many restaveks are released from duty when they are teen-agers  to fend for themselves shining shoes or doing any other work they  can find. 
When Cadet was a teen-ager, he followed the family he had lived with to Spring Valley, N.Y. After a falling out, he left to live on  his own, finished his education and joined the Army. He now teaches  French and history at a junior-senior high school in Cincinnati.
Cadet's father was a successful exporter of coffee and chocolate  who had an affair with his cook. Cadet eventually would learn that  his mother was killed when he was about 1 year old, and his father  later turned him over to a single woman he knew.

As an adult, Cadet reached out to his father, but found him  ashamed and unwilling to accept him. The father died last year,  before his son could show him his book about life as a restavek.
``I feel angry because he robbed me of the opportunity to talk   with him,'' Cadet said. 
Next to his right eye, there is a faint scar, a reminder of his   days as a restavek. He said the mark was left by a blow from a  shoe's sharp heel. ``This is because I broke a glass,'' he said, pointing to the   scar.

In his book, Cadet writes that he lost his childhood as a   restavek. ``The child's very rights to life -- to belong, to grow, to   smile, to love, to feel, to learn, and to be a child -- are denied,  by those whose ancestors were slaves themselves.''