Tyler Eshleman Dreams of a Restavek-free Haiti

Tyler Eshleman has a passion for ending child slavery in Haiti, but his journey to Haiti actually began in Puerto Rico, where he was traveling with the Eastern Mennonite High School Touring Choir.

During a late night conversation with his host mother, Tish, about his passion for working with disadvantaged children and his love for travel, she told him that he should meet a friend of hers. That friend was Jean Robert Cadet.

Cadet was with us last week on campus to speak about child slavery in Haiti and his own story having lived as a child slave.

Cadet runs the nonprofit organization Restavek No More, which works to help save Haitian chil- dren from entering into child slavery.

Tyler started reading Cadet’s book, a gift from his host mother, on the plane ride home.

Tyler describes reading Cadet’s story about being a restavek (Cre- ole for “child slave”). “At one point, I got so angry that a human could treat another human in such a way, just so frustrated, that I threw the book across the room. That’s really the first time that I had felt anger like that.”

About a week after returning home from Puerto Rico, Tyler received a friend request from Cadet on Facebook.

They began to exchange messages and quickly hit it off. The situation of so many dis- advantaged children in Haiti that are bought as servants laid heav- ily on Tyler’s mind for several weeks. It was out of a dream that Tyler knew what he was supposed to do next. “I had a dream about doing this all-night walkathon,” he told me “to raise money and aware- ness for [Cadet’s] organization.” The dream stayed with Tyler and prompted him to put together a community-wide all-night walkathon.

The walk included six schools and over 400 people, working in teams to make sure that someone from each team was always walking around the school throughout the night.

Cadet came to the event, host- ed at Harrisonburg High School, and shared some of his story. The event raised a little over $25,000.

Shortly after the walk, Cadet called Tyler and told him that he had a new project for him.

A generous donor set aside 24 acres of land in Haitifor Cadet’s organization to build a school. Land is often very expensive and difficult to obtain in Haiti.

Impressed by the event that Tyler organized and the way the local community turned out to support the fight against child slavery, Cadet asked Tyler to help turn the school into a reality.

Since then, Tyler has been working with Virginia Mennonite Missions and Mennonite Central Committee to develop plans for the school.

Tyler’s vision for the land also in- cludes a cooperative farm that would provide food for the school children and income for the surrounding village. The cooperative farm and school bring together Tyler’s passion to stop human trafficking and his de- sire to live simply and in community. Tyler said that he would love for the school to be completed by the time he graduates in 2016. He also noted that his cur- rent projects in Haiti represent his dream job for the future. Before returning to EMU for the spring semester, Tyler had an opportunity to visit the village where the school will be built, as well as visiting other parts of Haiti. Tyler describes his time in Haiti as “powerful and emotional.” The highlight of the trip was be- ing able to distribute Christmas gifts to several of the children that Restavek No More has helped free from slavery. While the trip was emotionally difficult for Tyler, it made him “that much more passionate to keep going back and to keep working with those children.”

Darian Harnish

Categories: Feature

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