“Sometimes we find children in bushes and sometimes these children are even abandoned at birth. They come to us crying and in shock,” Gracieuse Toussaint told me on my recent visit to the border town of Ouanaminthe in northeast Haiti.
Gracieuse is a social worker and is confronted daily with the youngest and most vulnerable victims helped by the St. Jean Evangeliste Anti-Trafficking program.
“We hear so many stories of abuse. Just recently there was one girl who was very ill. She was sexually assaulted by a trafficker who was supposed to bring her across the border where she could receive medical help. These situations are dire.”
In Ouanaminthe, Haiti, the majority of families live below the poverty line. HIV/AIDS and malnutrition are highly prevalent and many families suffer from lack of resources, education and the opportunity to advance. As a result, they pay a trafficker to bring them across the border in hopes they will find a better life in the Dominican Republic. Sadly, this “better life” often turns out to be a trap for unpaid or underpaid labor, or in extreme cases, organ donations or prostitution.
“It is so sad because these children and their families are under the impression that they will have a better future this way,” says Sister Alexandra Leonel, a Juanista Sister who runs the St. Jean Evangeliste Anti-Trafficking program, a safe transition home that offers protection and social services to these young victims.
The sisters provide spiritual, emotional and psychological support to every child who comes to the shelter while they work on finding their families or placing them in a loving orphanage.
Many of the details about their ministry are confidential in order to protect the children in their care, but what was clearly evident on my visit is the sisters’ immense desire to share the love of Christ with each child and teach them about their value in God’s eyes.
Sr. Alexandra says: “It is very difficult for these children. They already come from difficult life situations and are then thrown into an even harsher one. When they come to us, I want these children to feel safe, but also know Jesus. I want them to know that trafficking is not a part of God’s plan. God is their protector.”