News / USA

CNN Documentary 'Rescued' Highlights Complicated Plight of Haitian Orphans, Child Slaves

Soledad O'Brien during filming for the documentary 'Rescued' at the Lighthouse orphanage in Port-au-Prince, Haiti
Soledad O'Brien during filming for the documentary 'Rescued' at the Lighthouse orphanage in Port-au-Prince, Haiti

Over a hundred invited guests filled the University of Miami's Bill Cosford Theater May 4 to see a preview of CNN's documentary "Rescued".  The program, hosted by CNN special correspondent and anchor Soledad O'Brien focuses on the lives of two Haitian orphans: Cendy Jeune and Mackenson Olibrice. The children were taken in by American missionaries Susette and Bill Manassero and placed in their orphanage "Maison de Lumiere" - Lighthouse - in Port-au-Prince.

The Manasseros are from Redondo Beach, in southern California and decided to move to Haiti after traveling to the country to meet a child they had been helping financially.  Their daughter, Arianna who was eight at the time convinced them to pack up everything and move to Haiti so they could help more children.

There are 380,000 child orphans in Haiti. Unlike most orphanages, Susette and Bill Manassero's main goal is not to find people willing to adopt the children. Instead, they aim to "rescue" the orphans, providing them with food, shelter, love and an education.  Their hope is that the children will give back to their homeland when they grow up.

Reporting the story


Soledad O'Brien with the children of the Lighthouse orphanage in Port-au-Prince
Soledad O'Brien with the children of the Lighthouse orphanage in Port-au-Prince

O'Brien says she learned of the Lighthouse orphanage through a young man she met while reporting in Haiti a week after the January 12 earthquake. CNN was the first news organization to report from inside the country following the devastation. She says she wanted to "help put a face on the hundreds of thousands of orphans living there." She adds that they tell the larger story of the country and its challenges prior to and following the catastrophic tremor.

"There's a young man named Jonathan Olinger who I ended up meeting in Haiti and he'd been shooting at this orphanage since 2007 and he is a fantastic photographer and his storytelling is amazing! And so we met up right after the earthquake and we thought 'well, we could work toghether' this could be a wonderful documentary on CNN. "

O'Brien says the network brought in their own videographers and producers and combined with the images Olinger had managed to capture during previous years, they were able to document the children's lives before, during and after the devastating earthquake.

Cendy's story

Cendy Jeune, pictured on this promotional post card has blossomed, thanks the the care she's received at the Lighthouse orphanage
Cendy Jeune, pictured on this promotional post card has blossomed, thanks the the care she's received at the Lighthouse orphanage

O'Brien says although six-year-old orphan Cendy Jeune's story is typical in Haitian terms, (her parents abandoned her years ago because they couldn't afford to raise her) the issue is a complicated one.

"It's so different than how we understand things in the United States. Child slavery but legal. Orphans but with parents. You know, and it's this story of contradictions that I think are sometimes hard for people here in the United States to fully grasp," she says. "I think the restavèk issue, there is an opportunity to figure out what is going to happen to that issue. I think that you can not have children living in desparate poverty, living as child slaves and have a healthy country."

Marc Kenson's story

Marc Kenson Oliphi, the young man featured in "Rescued" is a former "restavèk" - a child slave.  His parents sold him and his sister for $120 Haitian dollars, the equivalent of $10 - $12 US dollars. He spent years living in poverty with a woman who made him call her "auntie". Marc Kenson remembers begging for money in the streets of Port-au-Prince and the beatings he received. The Manasseros "rescued" him, and provided him a home at the Lighthouse. Now 18, he is the caretaker of their guest house. Marc Kenson says he would like to be a mechanic some day. He adds that he'd like to earn enough money to open up his own orphanage where he could help children.

The majority of Haitians are familiar with "restavèks" - child slaves. But some find it incredible that the world's first black republic, a nation who won its independence from France after a fierce battle in 1804, would condone the very same practice it was willing to shed blood to repeal 206 years ago.

Dr. J. Fritz Bazin says he remembers having 'restaveks' in his childhood home in Haiti
Dr. J. Fritz Bazin says he remembers having 'restaveks' in his childhood home in Haiti

Dr. Fritz Bazin, Archdeacon for Immigration and Social Injustice for the Archdiocese of Southeast Florida says he hopes "Rescued" will encourage Haitians to correct this injustice.

"I think the documentary represents an aspect of the Haitian reality," he said. "When one talks about a 'restavèk' for example, at my own home, growing up I remember having children who were living with us -- to be honest they were child slaves -- we didn't recognize it was wrong. And the church, all churches in Haiti in fact I remember when I was in Haiti there was always a mass in the afternoon for the poor and 'restavèks'. That means [the church] participated and in fact perpetuated the injustice.  But now, people are more aware of the issue, especially after the earthquake that has forced all the classes of society to mix [and live together].  I think that has to force some social changes as well."

Keeping the spotlight on Haiti


Cheryl Litlle hopes the CNN documentary 'Rescued' will keep the focus on Haiti and its people's struggle to rebuild
Cheryl Litlle hopes the CNN documentary 'Rescued' will keep the focus on Haiti and its people's struggle to rebuild

The University of Miami's School of Communications co-hosted the exclusive screening along with the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center.  FIAC Executive Director, Cheryl Little says she was thrilled at the opportunity to take part in the event.Soledad O'Brien, whom she had met previously during the filming of CNN's documentary "Latino in America" was  the keynote speaker at FIAC's  annual dinner last February.

"She [Soledad] asked us if we could host the screening and we obviously jumped at the opportunity. I think it's extremely important for people to see this documentary with respect to kids who have been orphaned in Haiti."

Little feels it is important to keep the focus on Haiti and its people post-earthquake.

"You know, Haiti was very much in the news there for a while after the earthquake but it seems we all have very short attention spans. I think one of the resounding messages of this documentary is we've got to be in it for the long haul. I mean we've really got to stick by Haiti this time," she says " and try to make sure that the country and its people can get back on their feet."

Panel discussion

The screening of "Rescued" was followed by a panel discussion moderated by Soledad O'Brien. The panel featured University of Miami's Dr. Barth Green, founder of Project Medishare for Haiti, acclaimed author Edwidge Danticat, FIAC Executive Director Cheryl Little, and Robert Duval founder of L'Athletique d'Haiti, an after-school sports program that helps Haitian children in Port-au-Prince.

Robert Duval says he feels tired now that he's left Haiti for the first time since the January 12 earthquake
Robert Duval says he feels tired now that he's left Haiti for the first time since the January 12 earthquake

Duval arrived in Miami May 4 -- his first trip out of Haiti since the earthquake.  He talked about the current situation inside the country where thousands have been displaced. His sports club is now home to 2000 earthquake survivors.

"The situation is globally catastrophic," Duval said, "because there are many places that the displaced now occupy and although there's a move now to resettle them in other camps, like 'Coraille' for example, it's just a tiny drop in the bucket. I personally think it's a problem at the society level that Haitians will have to resolve. These people are saying the society will have to deal with them - that now people will have to look them in the eye and say something. There must be a specific resettlement plan."

Duval says American celebrities Patricia Arquette and Sean Penn have been very helpful in getting him some assistance for the displaced living on his land but much more is needed.

Layers of victims

Author Edwidge Danticat signed copies of her new book during the pre-screening reception
Author Edwidge Danticat signed copies of her new book during the pre-screening reception

For Haitian--born author Edwide Danticat who returned from Haiti three days ago, "Rescued" shows the problems Haitians have been facing since the earthquake. She says there are many levels of victims.

"I think the documentary -- because Haiti is no longer in the news -- provides an interesting aspect of the crisis in Haiti. There are children who are orphans, there are children who foreigners have adopted and there are children that we Haitians have taken into our homes. So I think it's interesting to show that this earthquake left behind several layers of victims. In every society children are the most fragile, some are in precarious situations -- so this helps us to remember the plight of those children. It's an ongoing fight," Danticat said.

Many questions, few answers

During the post-screening question and answer session audience members wanted to know where is the aid money going? Why isn't the assistance reaching survivors? How hard is it to adopt a child? What they can do to help?  

There was no definitive response from the panelists, although Dr. Barth Green of Project Medishare for Haiti suggested people collect money to hire a contractor and build an earthquake-proof building. No buildings have been built since the earthquake, he told the audience.  But many members said they felt frustrated about the lack of progress and the dire living conditions of the Haitian people.

"These kids and adults as well  but they've lived in these horrible conditions, deplorable conditions prior to this and conditions that we never thought it could get worse. And now it's worse," an audience member said. " And you've got kids that aren't gonna live. So what's the future of Haiti? I don't think taking the kids and adopting them out of the country is the answer, but just leaving them there is not the answer either."

Back to Haiti soon

Soledad O'Brien says she'll be returning to Haiti in June
Soledad O'Brien says she'll be returning to Haiti in June

O'Brien says she hopes to do more reports on Haiti in the future.

"I think the natural progression is accountability but I think it's accountability with context. Well what SHOULD Haiti look like? What SHOULD the government look like? You know there are 14,000 NGOs by some people's estimation in Haiti. What will their role be? Can you have a weakened government and all of these NGOs, I mean is that possible? And where in the hierarchy will the issue of children, maybe specifically restavèks, where will that fall when they have an opportunity to rebuild and reconfigure the country," she says.

O'Brien spent a week in Haiti post-earthquake and an additional week reporting for the documentary. She says she will return to Haiti next month for five or six days but this time it won't be for work. She plans to take her daughter with her to volunteer at an orphanage.

CNN's documentary "Rescued" will air Saturday, May 8 at 8:00 p.m. (EST) .

You May Like

UN Ambassador Power Highlights Plight of Women Prisoners

She launches the 'Free the 20' campaign, aimed at profiling women being deprived of their freedom around the world More

Satellite Launch Sparks Spectacular Light Show

A slight delay in a satellite launch lit up the Florida sky early this morning More

Fleeing IS Killings in Syria, Family Reaches Bavaria

Exhausted, scared and under-nourished, Khalil and Maha's tale mirrors those of thousands of refugees from war-torn countries who have left their homes in the hopes of finding a better life More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs