EDITOR’S NOTE: Johnny (last name withheld for his safety), 18, is a former youth reporter with Radyo Timoun (Children’s Radio) 90.9 FM in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. This week rebels looted and burned it along with the Aristide Foundation For Democracy in which the station was located. Johnny told his story to PNS contributor Lyn Duff via telephone from Port-au-Prince.


PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti—I was living in the gutter, dressing in old clothes and begging at the airport when President Aristide took office in 1990. One of the first things Titid [as President Aristide was popularly known] did when he moved into the National Palace was invite a group of children who sleep in the streets to visit the palace and speak out about the conditions of the street children.


I heard on the radio the voice of Little Sony, one of the street children, speaking from the National Palace about the rights of children and I knew that the lives of the children in Haiti would change.


When Titid became president he told the world that we street children were people, we had value, that we were human beings.


Many adults didn’t like this message. They said we were dirty and should be thrown out like the trash that we are. But Titid loved us and when I met him, he kissed me and put his hand on my face and told me he loved me. And they were not the empty words of a politician.


During the first coup in 1991 the street kids were attacked and Lafanmi Selavi [a shelter for homeless children started by Aristide when he was a parish priest] was burned. Aristide came back from exile in October 1994 and it was a new world for the children. Three years of horror were over.


I was just a little child at that time but with Titid I felt important. We went to Titid and told him that we wanted to have a voice in democracy, to have a voice for children and he gave us Radyo Timoun. We were the first children’s radio station in the world, run by children and promoting the human rights of all Haitians. We spoke on the air about the news, about our hopes and opinions. Adults all over the country heard our voices and were forced to accept that we children are people too.


In the past eight years the radio station has gone through many changes and transitions; it was criticized and vandalized but we knew that behind mountains there are more mountains. The radio station was moved from Lafanmi Selavi to the Aristide Foundation for Democracy.


Yesterday at the Foundation I saw gangsters and criminals in army uniforms destroy the hopes and dreams of the Haitian people. They destroyed the building, burned books and killed many people. A new government run by these people will surely be bad not only for the children but for all the people of Haiti.


I do not believe that President Aristide has abandoned us to this misery. There is no electricity so it is hard to find news about what is really happening but I have heard he was forced to leave and I believe that. He would never leave us willingly. Last week Titid said on the radio he would die before he would give up the struggle for democracy in Haiti.


Right now it is hard to survive and we don’t know what we will do to find food and water. There are gangs everywhere in army clothes, looting and burning, attacking people and robbing those that are weaker. Everyone is fearful for the present and for the future.


The U.S. Marines stood by and did nothing while the library at the Aristide Foundation was burned. With my own eyes I saw the American Marines stand and watch while rebels cut a woman and shot her. I yelled at them, “Do something!” and they swung their guns around toward me and yelled, “Get back!”


While I hid in a field the American Marines put their hats on the bodies of dead people and posed for pictures with them. It made me sick because in Haiti we respect the dead. The Americans scare me; I don’t believe that they want anything good for the Haitian people because they support the criminals who oppose democracy.


We are fearful of the old army because they are those who killed the street children of Lafanmi Selavi. They killed the peasants in the North who wanted to have democracy and supported Aristide.


A new government has no hope for the children of Haiti. I am scared, I think the criminals will try to kill me too because I am one of Titid’s boys. But I am not just scared for myself. I am scared for all the children of Haiti. And today I cannot stop crying.

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