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Haiti is located on the western part of the Caribbean island Hispaniola, which it shares with the Dominican Republic. Made up of rugged mountainous land, Haiti encompasses two peninsulas, three mountain ranges, two major lakes, and 1,100 miles of beautiful coast. Haiti has struggled to gain stability as a country and people since its independence in 1804, remaining one of the poorest countries in the world. Years of political corruption and violence combined with a debilitating hurricane season almost every year have left Haiti as the least developed country in the western hemisphere with an estimated 30 percent of children suffering from malnutrition.
On January 12, 2010, a 7.3-magnitude earthquake hit the country, plunging its people deeper into devastation. More than 230,000 people were killed, and a year later more than one million remained displaced within the capital, Port-au-Prince, living under tents and tarps. The worst in the last 200 years, the earthquake caused more than $11 billion in damages and reconstruction costs. In October 2010, about nine months after the earthquake, a cholera outbreak began in the country as a result of the living conditions combined with poor water and sanitation and flooding. Even before the earthquake took the lives of so many, Haiti was estimated to have 380,000 orphaned children. That number today is even higher.
The island of Hispaniola became known to Westerners in 1492 when Christopher Columbus landed there. The Spanish settlers were joined by the French in the 17th century and in 1697 Spain ceded to the French the western third of the island. That French colony which is now Haiti became one of the wealthiest in the Caribbean thanks to forestry, sugar industries, and the major importation of African slaves. In 1804, after 500,000 slaves revolted, Haiti became the first black republic to declare independence. Today, about 95 percent of Haitians are of African descent with the remaining being from a line of mixed Caucasian-Africans.
Haiti’s two official languages are French and Creole, though French is spoken fluently by only about 10 percent of the people (mostly upper-class). All Haitians speak Creole. English and Spanish are becoming more common among young people and those in the business world.
Roman Catholicism is the religion of most Haitians (80 percent), though many, (about 16 percent) have converted to the Protestant faith in recent years due to missionary influence. Voodoo—a religion with roots thought to be from West Africa—is also widely practiced in Haiti alongside Christianity.
The Way of Life
Even before the 2010 earthquake, jobs in Haiti were scarce. It currently ranks 161 out of 187 countries on the United Nations Human Development Index. Common jobs for people in the lower class are craftsman, street vendor, or day laborer. Others were lucky enough to own their own businesses—shops or garages—most of which were destroyed in the earthquake. Though farming takes place in rural communities, the massive deforestation over the past decades prevent it from being widely lucrative.
Since the earthquake, in cities such as Port-au-Prince a typical family dwelling is made of tents, tarp, wood, scraps of metal, or anything else that will create some form of shelter. Prior to the earthquake, homes in cities were built of block and cement. In more rural areas, homes are made of wood or sometimes rock often covered with mud. Roofs are crafted from sheets of metal or tin. The most common meal for a Haitian family is rice and beans. Other staples are sweet potatoes, yams, corn, bread, and coffee, and if possible, a small amount of chicken, fish, or goat. Haiti is heavily dependant on food imports.
Before the earthquake, only about a quarter of Haiti’s population had electricity and most city slums didn’t have running water or proper sewer systems.
It is normal for extended relatives, often including foster children, to live in households together and to rely on one another for food and money to survive.
Haiti has long been known as the poorest country in the western hemisphere. Its economic problems are a result of political instability, a poor government and judicial system, and a shortage of farmable land, among other issues. Because of the poverty, one out of every six Haitians lives and works abroad. Though these migrants send money back to dependant family members, Haiti is continuously losing some of its most skilled workers who could help boost its economy.
Prior to the earthquake, about 80 percent of Haitians were living below the poverty line. There’s no doubt that number has increased since January 2010. Many families who did own land, a home, or a business lost everything and have spent their savings trying to survive for the past year. The lack of jobs and, for many families, the lack of a proper home, affect the children of Haiti.
The political unrest and violence in Haiti has also affected its healthcare system, causing thousands of children to die each year from preventable and treatable diseases because medical attention is not affordable or simply not available. Many Haitians turn to “traditional” healing by local people. Others rely on non-government organizations (NGOs) working in Haiti to get medical care.
Public education in Haiti is free, but many families still cannot afford the cost for uniforms, books, and supplies. And because the government hasn’t poured great attention into its schools, an estimated 90 percent of schools in Haiti are private or run by a church or NGO. Even before the earthquake, only 65 percent of primary school-aged children were enrolled in school at all, which explains why only half of Haiti’s population is literate. Haitians value education, but they can’t afford it or they need their children to help earn money for survival.
COTN's Involvement: Raising children who transform nations
COTN has had a ministry across the border from Haiti in the Dominican Republic since 1997. That’s why when the earthquake hit in January 2010, there was no doubt that COTN would help the Haitian people and children who were in desperate need. COTN sent Venture Teams made up of medical personnel to care for injured Haitians, along with a 40-foot shipping container of medical supplies. About two weeks after the earthquake, with COTN medical teams working in a makeshift hospital on the Haitian border, a COTN medical team identified 13 children desperate for better care. Along with their families, the children were brought to COTN’s medical clinic in Barahona, Dominican Republic, where COTN–Dominican Republic nurses partnered with medical Venture Team members to care for them over the next four months. The children suffered from amputations, major injuries, and emotional trauma. From the beginning, COTN committed to care for these children and their families for the following year. Now, all of them are healed and most are back home in Haiti. But their needs—as well as the needs of so many others in this impoverished country—are still great.
Children of the Nations has a unique approach to the devastating problems facing the population of Haiti. It is a vision that acts now to affect the future. Children of the Nations recognizes the future of any country is in the hands, minds, and souls of its children. Through a Village Partnership Program, Children of the Nations has established a daily presence in Haitian communities, providing resources (including school fees, medical care, feeding centers, etc.) that empower Haitians to raise their own children. In partnership with the people of Haiti, Children of the Nations’ vision is to develop a generation of future leaders and secure for Haiti a hope and a future.