Haiti Facts - Compassion International

Compassion has been making a difference in the lives of children in need in Haiti since 1968. Through our work there, we gather Haiti facts about children in need and the community of Haiti. These Haiti facts and statistics provide a good overview of the reality of poverty and how Compassion is releasing children from poverty in Jesus' name.

Poverty is a common problem in the country of Haiti but Compassion is working to change this. The Haiti facts tell a discouraging story, but Compassion is bringing hope in the midst of this discouragement. With your involvement, our programs are changing the statistics one child at a time.

Don't let the hopelessness of Haiti facts overwhelm you. You can make a difference to a child in Haiti today!


Compassion partners with churches to help them provide Haitian children with the opportunity to rise above their circumstances and become all God has created them to be.

Compassion's work in Haiti began in 1968. Currently, more than 109,000 children participate in 315 child development centers.

Learn About Haiti

The Spaniards used the island of Hispaniola (Haiti occupies the western part and the Dominican Republic occupies the eastern) as a launching point to explore the rest of the Western Hemisphere. French buccaneers later used the western third of the island as a point to pirate English and Spanish ships. In 1697, Spain ceded the western third of Hispaniola to France. As piracy was gradually suppressed, some French adventurers became planters, making Saint Domingue -- as the French portion of the island was known -- the "pearl of the Antilles" and one of the richest colonies in France's 18th century empire.

During this period, African slaves were brought to work on sugarcane and coffee plantations. In 1791, the slave population revolted and gained control of the northern part of the French colony, waging a war of attrition against the French.

By January 1804, local forces defeated an army sent by Napoleon Bonaparte, established independence from France and renamed the area Haiti.

With 22 changes of government from 1843 to 1915, Haiti experienced numerous periods of intense political and economic disorder.

From February 1986 -- when the 29-year dictatorship of the Duvalier family ended -- until 1991, Haiti was ruled by a series of provisional governments. Most of those governments had been ruled by a member of the former army forces (general or colonel). In March 1987, a constitution was ratified that provides for an elected president to serve as head of state; and a prime minister, cabinet, ministers and supreme court appointed by the president with parliament's consent. The Haitian Constitution also provides for political decentralization through the election of mayors and administrative bodies responsible for local government.

In December 1990, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a charismatic Roman Catholic priest, won 67 percent of the vote in a presidential election that international observers deemed largely free and fair. Aristide took office in February 1991, but was overthrown that September in a violent coup led by dissatisfied members of the army and supported by many of the country's economic elite. The coup contributed to a large-scale exodus of Haitians by boat. The U.S. Coast Guard rescued a total of 41,342 Haitians at sea during 1991 and 1992, more than the number of people rescued in boats from the previous 10 years combined.

With his term ending in February 1996, and barred by the constitution from succeeding himself, President Aristide agreed to step aside and support a presidential election in December 1995. Rene Preval, a prominent Aristide political ally, was sworn in to a five-year term, during what was Haiti's first-ever transition between two democratically elected presidents.

After an armed rebellion in February 2004, an interim government organized new elections under the auspices of the United Nations. Continued instability and technical delays prompted repeated postponements, but Haiti inaugurated a democratically elected president and parliament in May 2006, followed by contested elections in 2010.

A massive magnitude 7.0 earthquake that struck Haiti in January 2010 had its epicenter about 15 miles west of the capital, Port-au-Prince. Estimates are that more than 300,000 people were killed and some 1.5 million left homeless. The earthquake was assessed as the worst in this region over the previous 200 years.

Source: The World Factbook, 2014.


The typical school year runs from September to June. Primary education is compulsory, but families must pay school fees. Most children do not pursue secondary education due to family and economic pressure.

Education in Haiti is seen as a trademark of success in life and opens doors for privileges, social rank, travel and better jobs. For example, Haiti has two official languages: French and Creole. Those who are uneducated can only speak Creole; those who are educated can speak both, but French is the preferred and necessary language of commerce.

There are three recognized classes of people in Haiti: elite (wealthy), intellectual and proletariat (working class). Someone who is educated is considered part of the intellectual class.

Restavèk is a Creole word for a Haitian child who stays with and works for another family, typically an affluent family. A restavèk child can be a boy or a girl who is given away by a poor family in order to survive. Frequently, the restavèk’s most basic rights to health and education are denied.


The 1987 constitution grants freedom of religion. Goods brought into the country for use by registered churches and missionaries are exempt from customs duties and registered churches are not taxed. Foreign missionaries can enter on regular tourist visas.

Less than 20 percent of schools are public. In some of these schools, Catholic and other clergy play a role in teaching and administration. Church-run schools and hospitals are subject to government oversight.

The government does not interfere with the operation of radio and other media affiliated with religious groups. In addition to the many radio stations operated by religious (mostly Protestant, including evangelical) groups, religious programming is a staple of commercial broadcasting.

Source: International Religious Freedom Report, released in 2012 by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor.


Haitians make beautiful artwork out of found objects, such as old tin, which they cut into scenes of birds, flowers and other subject matter. Woodcarving, painting, dance and storytelling are also popular.

The music of Haiti is influenced most by French colonial ties and African immigration (through slavery), as well as by its neighbor, the Dominican Republic. American jazz has also influenced Haiti; the country first experienced recorded music in 1937, when jazz was recorded noncommercially. The national dance is the méringue (similar to the Dominican version).

Holidays and Festivals

Independence Day, Jan. 1: Thanksgiving and night services take place. It is a time of visiting with friends and family. Pumpkin soup is traditionally shared to celebrate the end of slavery.

Good Friday, April 13

Christmas, Dec. 25: Houses are repainted and tree trunks are whitewashed. Families attend church services and midnight supper, then children play in the moonlight.

Visit the Compassion blog to read posts about Christmas in Haiti and Easter in Haiti.

Sports and Games

Soccer is played year-round. Boys use anything round or oval for a soccer ball. Kites are popular, especially at Easter time. Children also like to play many versions of hide-and-seek.

Typical Foods

Haitians eat rice, beans, corn and bananas. Coffee is a popular drink.

Pumpkin Soup Recipe
1/2 lb. salt pork (minced)
4 pints water
1 tsp. thyme
1 bay leaf
1 tsp. salt
1 lb. pumpkin, chopped (peel and remove seeds)
1 tsp. pepper
1/2 tsp. grated nutmeg

Cook the pork in the water with the thyme and bay leaf for 30 minutes. Add pumpkin, salt and pepper and cook for 15-20 minutes, then sieve. Add the nutmeg; reheat and serve. Serves 6.


Bonjour (Hello)
Comment-allez vous? (How are you?)
Je m'appelle... (My name is...)

Bonjou (Hi)
Kòman ou ye? (How are you?)
Mwen rele... (My name is...)

Compassion in Haiti

Child Sponsorship Program

Children age 5 and younger attend the child development center 1 hour a day, Monday through Friday, and 3 hours on Saturday. Older children attend 2 to 4 hours after school per week and 4 hours on Saturday, adding up to 6 to 8 hours a week. The exact schedule depends on the context of each particular center.

Each child receives a snack, such as sandwiches, candy and juice or milk, during the week, or a hot meal, which consists of spaghetti or rice, beans, vegetables, meat and juice, when they participate in the activities.

There is a program (Jenitimoun) held during the summer, in which groups of children from different child development centers participate in a knowledge competition. Spiritual retreats are held during Carnival and Easter time.

Adolescent student clubs are held each Saturday from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. or 1 to 5 p.m. Vocational education and training are available based on the local context of the center. Activities include painting, crafts, sewing, computer, music, photography, videography, cooking, foreign languages class, etc.

Visit the Compassion blog to learn more about our work in Haiti and to read a post about a day in Port-au-Prince.

Haiti Facts and Figures
Capital Port-au-Prince

9,996,731 (2014 estimate)

Note: Estimates for this country take into account the effects of excess mortality due to AIDS; this can result in lower life expectancy, higher infant mortality and death rates, and changes in the distribution of population than would otherwise be expected.


French (official), Creole (official)

Christian 96% (Roman Catholic 80%, Protestant 16% [Baptist 10%, Pentecostal 4%, Adventist 1%, other 1%]), none 1%, other 3%

Note: Roughly half the population practices Voodoo.

Literacy rate

Definition: Age 15 and over can read and write.
Male: 53.4%

Female: 44.6% (2006 estimate)
Percentage of population using improved drinking water sources

Urban: 77.5%

Rural: 48.5%
(2011 estimate)

Percentage of population using adequate sanitation facilities

Urban: 33.7%

Rural: 17.4%
(2011 estimate)

Climate Tropical; semiarid where mountains in east cut off trade winds
Percentage of population urbanized 52%
(2010 estimate)
Life expectancy Male: 61.77 years

Female: 64.6 years (2014 estimate)
Under-5 mortality rate 76/1,000
(2012 estimate)
GDP per capita $1,300 (2013 estimate)
Monetary unit Haitian gourde (HTG)
Number of people living with HIV/AIDS 146,000 (2012 estimate)
Percent of population living below
$1.25 per day

62% (2007-11)

Sources for facts: The World Factbook, 2014; The State of the World's Children, 2014