The island of Hispaniola (the Dominican Republic forms the eastern two-thirds and Haiti forms the rest) was originally occupied by the Tainos, an Arawak-speaking people. The Tainos welcomed Columbus in his first voyage in 1492, but subsequent colonizers were brutal, reducing the Taino population from about 1 million to about 500 in 50 years. To ensure adequate labor for plantations, the Spanish brought African slaves to the island in 1503.
In the next century, French settlers occupied the western end of the island, which Spain ceded to France in 1697, and which, in 1804, became the Republic of Haiti. The Haitians conquered the whole island in 1822 and held it until 1844, when forces led by Juan Pablo Duarte, the hero of Dominican independence, drove them out and established the Dominican Republic as an independent state. In 1861, the Dominicans voluntarily returned to the Spanish Empire; in 1865, independence was restored. Economic difficulties, the threat of European intervention and ongoing internal disorders led to a U.S. occupation in 1916 and the establishment of a military government in the Dominican Republic. The occupation ended in 1924, with a democratically elected Dominican government.
From 1930 to 1947 (and indirectly until 1961), Rafael Leonidas Trujillo, one of the country's most corrupt rulers, used murder and torture to suppress any opposition to his autocratic style of ruling. Thousands of innocent Dominicans were murdered during his rule. He was assassinated in 1961.
The country suffers from marked income inequality; the poorest half of the population receives less than one-fifth of GDP, while the richest 10 percent enjoys nearly 40 percent. High unemployment and underemployment remain challenging.
The World Factbook, 2014.
The typical school year runs from September to June. Education is compulsory from age 7 through 14 and there is a shortage of teachers, facilities and funds.
For decades, Dominican farming families have been moving into the cities. These Dominicans are poor and not trained for different types of work, which makes it difficult for them to provide their children with an education that will allow them to compete in the local work market.
Those who are educated and receive specific training get the most desirable jobs. Therefore, education has become more valued in the last 25 years.
To the Dominican family, payment for education represents a significant percentage of their budget, an amount that increases with high-level education. Providing their children with a profession is one of the most desired goals for parents, but the high costs of an education often make this goal impossible.
Dominican employers have expressed two priorities regarding the profile of university graduates: They should speak foreign languages and be able to do interdisciplinary jobs. These requirements leave many out of the competition.
There is no state religion. The government signed a concordat in 1954 with the Vatican, extending to the Catholic Church special privileges not granted to other religions. These include the use of public funds to underwrite some church expenses, such as rehabilitation of church facilities and a complete waiver of customs duties when importing goods.
Religious groups are required to register with the government to operate legally. Such groups other than the Catholic Church must request exemptions from customs duties from the office of the presidency. This process can be lengthy; however, requests are usually granted.
Currently, Roman Catholic weddings are the only religious marriage ceremonies that the government legally recognizes, although civil unions are legal as well.
A 2000 law requires that the Bible be read in public schools but it is not enforced. Private schools are not obliged to include Bible reading among their weekly activities.
Source: International Religious Freedom Report, released in 2012 by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor.
The Dominican Republic has many poets, essayists and novelists, including former president Juan Bosch. Architecture is another important part of Dominican culture, such as the colonial Spanish buildings in Santo Domingo.
Dominican folk music features instruments such as the maracas, tambora (small drum), accordion and the guirra (a percussion instrument scraped with a metal rod). The national dance is the méringue.
Duarte Day, Jan. 26: Celebration honoring the father of the country.
Independence Day, Feb. 27: The festival of carnaval coincides with Independence Day and is the most colorful festival of the year. For Catholics, it is it a time of feasting before the time of fasting known as Lent.
Labor Day, May 1
Las Navidades, Dec. 15-Jan. 6: A festive time when families get together. On Christmas Eve, families attend midnight mass and return home to eat their Christmas dinner. Jan. 6 commemorates the Three Kings who came to worship Jesus. The night before, children place boxes of grass under their beds for the Three Kings' camels. After the camels have eaten all the grass, the Kings leave presents in the empty boxes.
Dominicans love baseball. Many professional players in the United States come from the Dominican Republic.
“El Pañuelo” (The Handkerchief) and “El Juego de la Silla” (The Game of the Chair) are two popular games Dominican children play.
A dish of beans and rice is traditionally called "the Dominican flag" because it is the basic Dominican meal.
Green Banana Salad
3 green (unripe) bananas, peeled
2 cups water
1 tsp. salt
2 medium carrots, shredded
1 small cucumber, sliced
1 medium tomato, chopped
1 avocado, cubed
1 stalk celery, sliced
1/3 cup olive or vegetable oil
2 Tb. wine vinegar
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. prepared dark mustard
dash of pepper
Heat bananas, water and salt to boiling; reduce heat. Cover and simmer until tender, about 5 minutes. Drain and cool; cut bananas crosswise into 1/2-inch slices. Blend together dressing ingredients. Toss bananas and vegetables with dressing. Serves 8.
Hola, ¿cómo estás? (Hi, how are you?)
Bien, gracias. (Fine, thanks.)
Me llamo ... (My name is ...)
¿Cómo te llamas? (What's your name?)
Compassion began its ministry in the Dominican Republic in 1970 as a relief program donating food, medicine and money for children selected by the local churches. In the 1980s the program became a school program in which children gained access to education through the local church. In 1994, the Child Sponsorship Program was started. The Leadership Development Program began in 2004, followed by the Child Survival Program in 2006.
Child Sponsorship Program
Children age 11 and younger typically participate in child development center activities 6 to 8 hours a week spread over 2 to 3 days. Older children attend 4 hours a week spread over 1 to 2 days. These are times of "essential contact" to develop the curriculum lessons. During these times, children also write letters to their sponsors and have a meal. Older children have fewer hours of essential contact time at the center because of their larger school workload and their participation in more service and extracurricular activities.
At the centers, the children are provided with vocational training courses for income generation (e.g., computers, painting, beauty, welding, upholstery, power inverter manufacturing and repair, repair of cell phones, baking, tailoring, barber shop skills, car mechanics, etc.) Many of the vocational training courses are certified, allowing the students to grow professionally in a given technical field.
Children receive a nutritious meal every time they attend center meetings for essential contact, and they get a snack any other time they meet for activities. A typical meal could include several of the following foods: pasta, rice, beans, chicken, oats, soup, meat, mashed potatoes, plantains, corn flour, milk, chocolate, corn flakes, bread, hot dogs or sausage, etc. On special occasions, like Christmas celebrations, the church partner provides the children with a full supper.
Children of all ages receive some Bible portions or a whole Bible as soon as they enter the program.
At least once or twice in the year, parents participate in a general meeting featuring talks on healthy parenting, and sexual and reproductive health. Some churches train the parents in vocational skills like baking, tailoring, computers, sales, production of cleaning products and personal care products, upholstery and bead jewelry, etc.
Visit the Compassion blog to learn more about our work in the Dominican Republic, including what life is like in different regions of the country.
||10,349,741 (2014 estimate)
||Christian 95% (Roman Catholic), other 5%
Definition: Age 15 and over who can read and write.
Female: 90.2% (2011 estimate)
Percentage of population using improved drinking water sources
|Percentage of population using adequate sanitation facilities
||Tropical maritime; little seasonal temperature variation; seasonal variation in rainfall
|Percentage of population urbanized
||Male: 75.6 years
Female: 80.08 years (2014 estimate)
Under 5 mortality rate
|GDP per capita
||$9,700 (2013 estimate)
||Dominican peso (DOP)
|Number of people living with HIV/AIDS
||45,000 (2012 estimate)
|Percentage of population living below
$1.25 a day
2% (2007-11 study)
Sources for facts: The World Factbook, 2014; The State of the World's Children, 2014