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Poverty Is Not A Character Flaw

When B.J. was just 7 years old, her parents sent her to live with a family friend because they didn’t have the financial resources to care for her.

This is a decision no parent should face. 

But in rural Haiti where B.J. lives, the practice is common enough these children have a name: restavek. In exchange for housework, restaveks are provided food and shelter. But they’re denied an education,  they’re forbidden from contacting or even talking about their family back home, and they’re often severely abused by their “hosts.”

B.J.’s parents didn’t know the likely outcome. They were only trying to provide their daughter with a better life than they could offer.

When B.J. turned 13 years old, she ran away from her host home and began selling corn and herbal teas in the marketplace. But it wasn’t enough to make ends meet, and she turned to romantic partners for additional support.

At 18 years old, B.J. got married and subsequently had four children. Although her husband was physically and emotionally abusive, she felt stuck in the relationship because of her financial dependence. So she made do. For decades.

But in 2019, a woman in the marketplace told B.J about an opportunity to sell shoes to earn an income. The program, a partnership between Soles4Souls and the Haitian American Caucus, teaches women how to start and run their own business selling shoes donated by individuals, shoe drives, and footwear companies.

B.J. signed up immediately. 

Today, B.J. is able to send her four children to school consistently, feed her family, and have access to medical coverage. 

Although she’s still with her husband, the dynamics have changed. The physical violence has decreased dramatically, and she feels like she has a voice in her family. 

She’s gotten closer to her children, and her teenage daughter has helped B.J. learn how to spell her name. Her dream is to purchase land for her family and be able to read at least one song from her church hymn book.

B.J.’s story is yet more confirmation of this truth: Poverty isn’t a character flaw. Destitute people don’t lack work ethic. They lack opportunity. 

Shoes can change that.