Nicole Simeon, Journalist, Le Nouvelliste
If for certain kids summer vacation means leisure and rest, on the contrary for others there is no respite.
In fact, the summer holiday is for a category of children a season that permits them to earn their own money.
The city of Jacmel for instance, located at 121 km South of the Capital, is home to many of these children. Being mostly girls between 9 and 14 years old, these children live in very precarious economic circumstances.
They are street children or domestics, who come from nearby coastal villages in search of a better life.
Some of them attend school regularly. Others, by need or obligation are converted into street merchants.
They can be found everywhere: at the marketplace or around the public square of ‘Toussaint Louverture’ in the district of Bel-Air, at the bus station ‘Marché Geffrard’ at the entrance of the city or at the ‘Lakobat’ Marketplace, commonly called “down town,” with small merchandise such as plastic bags, spices or sweets, which they offer in loud voice to passers-by all day long, or eventually carry to the people.
However, at the fringes of such a pitiful life, these girls have dreams, dreams of children without a childhood.
Seated on the main public square of the city, Edith, Clara and Finette think that “the sale is not good today.” In the shadow of a tree, they grant themselves a break and discuss a bit, their baskets laying at their feet.
A few cloves of garlic, some spices, peppers and a few onions make up their entire merchandise. They are at average 13 years old and attend public or community schools.
Their activities, however little, do not cause them any embarrassment because the majority of their schoolmates are in the same situation, they say.
But Edith, Clara and Finette would prefer to do other things like staying at home and play with their friends.
This temporary activity enables them to help out their parents or be useful to their “benefactors” who have welcomed them in their houses but whose economic conditions are not always better than those of their parents, they underline.
Mirlande is the benjamin of a family of three children.
Her brothers have left with her father to work in the ‘bateyes’, the famous sugar cane fields in the Dominican Republic.
Her mother does laundry for people in the city. They don’t see each other often.
Placed as a domestic at her aunt’s who lives in the area of ‘Ka Maya’, she does not attend school and does not even know her age. But she wishes she could go to school like some of her ‘neighbours’ (other domestics).
Myrlande dreams to become a doctor. But she knows it is not up to her to decide.
All year round, she goes to the market. At this moment, she sells sausage.
Adeline is 10 years old and is from a family of four siblings living in the community of ‘Zorangers’, the first communal section of ‘Bas Cap-Rouge.’
She now lives in a neighbourhood close to the ‘Pinchinat’ Park, commonly known as “under ground,” with a family that she hardly identifies.
She goes to the market all year round with her spices and flavourings, preferably in the morning so that she can attend school in the afternoons. She is in third grade.
She was only six when she started working as a vendor, she remembers. One of her younger brothers died very young. As the youngest brother stayed with her mother in ‘Zorangers,’ Adeline and her little sister were placed in the city, with two different people.
Adeline wants to become “an important lady” who receives respect from everyone, she says.
Guerlande’s situation is different. She lives with her parents in the district of ‘La Saline.’ Her parents have two children and make a living as street merchants.
She has “forgotten” her age, she admits with an embarrassed laugh, after thinking deep. She attends elementary classes in a little school, directed by a pastor.
Guerlande thinks that she should have been in a higher grade.
She does the vending for her own account. With the pocket money that she set aside during the year, she was able to save enough to invest in selling sweets and cookies.
With the profit, she hopes to purchase the little things she needs for the next school year. In this way, her parents will only need to provide the uniforms and the school fees.
Guerlande dreams of becoming a very important person in Jacmel, and have the financial means to support her parents in the future.
These girls have not chosen their situation. They are obliged to earn their living at an age when they should be playing with their dolls and enjoy the carelessness of childhood. But due to fate, they are in the streets, thinking and talking as adults in order to survive.