Social worker, community activist – Bastien grew up in Pont Benoit, a village in central Haiti. Her father, Philippe, built the area’s first school, and his oldest children, Marleine among them, worked as teachers during their three-month summer vacations. Because he was known as a servant of the people, Philippe Bastien, was considered by the government to be a communist, and he was regularly arrested and jailed. In 1974 the family moved to Port-au-Prince, where Marleine attended the prestigious Swiss school, College Bird. In 1980, Marleine’s father went into exile in the US, and in 1981, at the age of 22, she joined him and he rest of her family in Florida.
In 1982, she started a full-time job as a paralegal and interpreter at the Haitian Refugee Centre. Almost every day for five years she accompanied the centre’s lawyers to the Krome detention center, where thousands of Haitians languished in compounds or trailers surrounded by barbed wire fences. At the same time, she then took degrees in social work at Florida International University and, on completing her post-graduate work, she joined the Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami as a clinical social worker at the Sickle Cell Centre, counselling families dealing with the disease.
Driven by the notion that “social workers must be agents of change” Bastien says she focuses on helping people help themselves. In 1991, she founded Fanm Ayisyen Nan Miyami (Haitian Women of Miami), which she still leads. FANM advocates for women’s rights and works for the social, political, and economic empowerment of all women and girls, especially Haitian. The 30-member organisation operates counselling and economic-assistance programs, and conducts educational workshops and presentations on subjects rarely mentioned in traditional, patriarchal Haitian society, such as breast cancer prevention, domestic violence and child abuse.
Bastien has also been instrumental in the formation of the Haitian Grassroots Coalition, an umbrella grouping of 23 Haitian community development organisations in South Florida. This Miami-based coalition has been at the forefront of the national effort to push for progressive Haitian immigration legislation, and it brought together many Haitian activists and business people with deeply opposing views.