little girl in holt child sponsorship in haiti

All About Haiti: Facts for Sponsors

If you sponsor — or are thinking about sponsoring — a child in Haiti, here are some facts to help you learn about this island nation, its land and its people.

Haiti is a Caribbean nation that shares the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic. It makes up the western one-third of the island, while the Dominican Republic comprises the eastern two-thirds. Haiti is surrounded by 1,100 miles of coastline and is the most mountainous country in the Caribbean. Its original indigenous name, Ayiti, means “land of mountains.”

Haiti has a deep, rich cultural history and the distinction of being the world’s first Black-ruled republic and the first independent Caribbean country. In 1804, Haiti won its independence from France, making it the second nation in the Western Hemisphere, after the United States, to free itself from colonial rule. It was also the first country in the Americas to stage a successful slave revolt, abolishing slavery in 1793.

Haiti is surrounded by 1,100 miles of coastline and is the most mountainous country in the Caribbean. Its original indigenous name, Ayiti, means “land of mountains.”

Haitians have a strong sense of national pride, as is demonstrated by the countrywide celebrations that take place in the month of May. On May 1, Haitians observe Labor and Agriculture Day, which honors its farmers and other workers through street parades and cultural activities. On May 18, Haitians commemorate Haitian Flag Day, with festivities that celebrate the creation of the Haitian flag in 1803 and Haiti’s ultimate independence from French rule.

Haitians are also hard-working and resilient, having endured many economic, political and social difficulties over the years — in addition to a series of major earthquakes and hurricanes that have devastated its infrastructure. Today, Haiti is the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, with nearly 60% of the population living in poverty. Every year, Holt sponsors and donors provide life-changing support for more than 1,900 children and families in Haiti, helping them break the cycle of poverty.     

Haitian gril in school

Basic Facts About Haiti

Capital

Port-au-Prince

Population

11.5 million people (2022, est.)

Official Languages

French and Creole

Area

10,714 square miles, slightly smaller than Maryland 

Climate

Haiti has a warm, humid tropical climate. Average temperatures range from the high 70s in January and February to the mid-80s in July and August. Because Haiti lies in the middle of the Caribbean hurricane belt, it is especially vulnerable to such storms — particularly on its southern peninsula.

Religion

Catholic, 55%; Protestant, 29%; Vodou, 2.1%; other, 4.6%; none, 10%. Vodou, as practiced in Haiti, is a religion based on ancestral spirits and patron saints. It was born from the blending of Catholicism and Western and Central African spirituality.

Ethnic Groups

Black, 95%; biracial and white, 5%. The Black population of Haiti is fully descended from African slaves.

Type of Government

Semi-presidential republic

National Celebrations

Haitians have been said to be a people who suffer and who sing. Nowhere is this more evident than during Haitian celebrations, which are vibrant, colorful events that feature singing, dancing and rejoicing, in spite of the nation’s struggles.

Carnival or “Kanaval,” as is spoken in Haitian Creole — is one of the most joyful events in Haiti. This pre-Lenten celebration typically begins after Christmas and New Year festivities and culminates on Mardi Gras (or Shrove Tuesday in Haiti), the day before the Catholic Lenten season begins. Carnival is a time of rejoicing, and streets are filled with music, dancing and parades. Haitians wear colorful costumes and masks, showcasing their blend of European, African and indigenous cultures.

During Carnival, families often reunite to celebrate with one another. Even expatriated relatives may return to Haiti, to sing, dance and share a meal together. Carnival is also a time when all Haitian people — no matter their social or economic class — mingle together as one people, culture and nation.

Women in colorful dresses and masks during Carnival in Haiti
Haitians wear colorful costumes and masks in celebration of Carnival.

Haitian Flag Day is another celebration of national pride. It takes place on May 18 each year and commemorates the creation of the Haitian flag in 1803, as well as the revolution in Haiti that secured the nation’s freedom from France. Haitian Flag Day is often celebrated with festivals and parades throughout Haiti that include music, food and speeches from Haitian celebrities and political figures, who reflect on the historical significance of the holiday.

Haitian Food and Drink

Haitian cuisine is a blend of West African, French and Caribbean cultures. It relies on staples such as rice, beans, corn, millet and yams. Mangoes are grown throughout Haiti and are a popular fruit to eat. Some traditional dishes include:

  • Akasan, a thick, sweet corn porridge with milk and spices, served either hot or cold for breakfast
  • Pate, a heavy pastry filled with savory meats and spices
  • Soup joumou, a squash puree with a mix of vegetables, meats and spices. It has a light consistency and is served with bread for Sunday breakfast and for breakfast on Haiti’s Independence Day (January 1).  
  • Riz national (or national rice), cooked rice and red kidney beans, with toppings that add color, flavor and texture. Rice is typically served every day at lunch.
  • Fritay, fried foods such as slices of green plantains or white sweet potatoes, or fried meats such as pork, goat or beef 
  • Fritay ak pikliz, or fritay served with a pickled vegetable Haitian hot sauce
  • Tasso kabrit, marinated fried goat that combines the crunchiness of fried meat with the sweetness of a snack
  • Griot, marinated fried pork  
girl washing her hands

Mealtime Customs

  • Haitians often eat three meals a day.
  • Breakfast can range from a very light meal, eaten early in the morning, to a heavier meal, eaten later on. A light breakfast may include cassava bread with peanut butter and coffee. A heavier meal may consist of cornmeal with vegetables and avocado.
  • If breakfast is served later in the morning, Haitians eat only two meals with snacks in between. Snacks may include fresh seasonal fruit, Haitian patties and plantain chips. 
  • The main meal is typically eaten around midday and includes the national dish of rice and beans served with a meat dish or vegetable stew. It is often preceded by a plate of boiled plantains and other boiled roots and tubers. Cooked cornmeal is a frequent substitute for rice.
  • Evening meals are simple and often consist of a bowl of porridge or soup or a plate of fritay. In some households, leftovers from lunch are served.  

Haitian Music

Haitian music combines a wide range of influences, drawn from the many people who have settled on this Caribbean island. It includes compas (a modern meringue dance music) and rara (a form of festival music that uses cylindrical bamboo and metal trumpets). Emeline Michel, a popular Haitian singer, celebrates some of these musical styles in her video Timoun (Creole for children).

Social Concerns

Poverty

Nearly 60% of Haitians live in poverty. Generations of colonial and authoritarian leaders have exploited and mismanaged Haiti’s resources, leaving it the most barren and impoverished country in the Western Hemisphere. Today, Haitians face skyrocketing unemployment, a collapsed infrastructure and little-to-no social services.

Haiti’s widespread poverty has contributed to high rates of crime and violence, endangering women and children. In the first eight months of 2021, 455 people, predominantly Haitians, were abducted for ransom by criminal gangs — including 71 women and 30 children. In all of 2020, 59 women and 37 children were kidnapped. Quite often, the families of those kidnapped are forced to sell their homes, cars or other valuables to pay the ransom. They also incur medical and mental health care expenses for a child or family member after their release, if by chance they survive the kidnapping. “Presently, the fear of being kidnapped or having a close relative in the hands of kidnappers is a source of great trauma for every Haitian citizen,” says Beverly Sanon, Holt’s country representative in Haiti.

Help Children & Families in Haiti

Many children in Haiti are hungry or malnourished and don’t have access to medical care. They need help to stay safe from crime and violence, stay with their families instead of in orphanages and break the cycle of poverty. Your gift will help a child or family in Haiti in greatest need.

Food Insecurity & Malnutrition

Before Haiti’s natural resources were so mismanaged by its leaders, this island nation was a lush, agricultural region that provided ample food for its people. But today, 1 of every 5 children in Haiti is malnourished and one-third of child deaths are due to undernutrition.

In August 2021, a 7.2-magnitude earthquake hit Haiti, followed days later by Tropical Depression Grace. Many families were left homeless — facing food shortages and a lack of access to basic services, including drinking water. Families living in southern Haiti were hit the hardest. Many were forced to change their diet as it became difficult to access the foods they were used to consuming. Some families even reduced the number of daily meals they gave their children.

According to USAID, food insecurity, natural disasters and poor infrastructure, particularly for water and sanitation, continue to make Haiti’s population vulnerable to malnutrition. “Malnutrition takes a serious and irreversible toll on children, making them more susceptible to disease and death, and compromising their cognitive and physical development,” says Beverly Sanon, Holt’s country representative in Haiti.

Learn how Holt sponsors and donors help meet the nutritional needs of families in Haiti.

Gender Inequality

Women and girls are the backbone of Haitian society. Nearly half of all Haitian households are led by women, meaning that an adult female is the sole or main income producer and decision maker. (According to the World Bank, Haiti has one of the highest percentages of women-led households in the world.) Haitian women also contribute to economic life, making up the majority of street vendors and support to agricultural supply chains.

Yet today, women in Haiti continue to face gender inequality and discrimination. Haitian men have a higher literacy rate, at 61%-64%, than do women, at 57%.  Unwed, pregnant women face stigma from society and sometimes even their own family. Haitian women also have a higher unemployment rate than men, making it more difficult to find work.

Haitian woman holding drill on ladder

In 2020, the unemployment rate for women was 18.41%, compared to 12.72% for men. What’s more, men who are employed in a skilled trade, such as plumbing, earn significantly more than women, who may wash clothes, sell food or clean houses for a living.

Learn how Holt sponsors and donors help single women in Haiti become more economically empowered.

Limited Access to Education

In Haiti, high education costs and family instability cause many children to drop out of school at an early age. On average, about 40% of a family’s income goes toward the cost of fees, books and supplies for their children. In rural areas, many children simply don’t have access to a school within a reasonable walking distance. As a result, the average person in Haiti above the age of 25 has had only five years of schooling. But education is vital to the individual development of children and to the collective, long-term development of Haitian society. 

Learn how Holt sponsors and donors help Haitian children get an education.

Natural Disasters

Haiti sits on a fault line between two huge tectonic plates, making it susceptible to earthquakes. It also lies in the middle of the Caribbean hurricane belt, causing it to be vulnerable to such storms. In August 2021, a 7.2-magnitude earthquake struck the southwest coast of Haiti, bringing large-scale damage to the country’s southern peninsula. Two days later, Tropical Depression Grace dumped extremely heavy rains in southern Haiti, causing flooding in the same quake-affected areas.

The toll on Haiti has been devastating. More than 2,200 people are said to have died, and 130,000 homes were destroyed. Communities were left in crisis as hospitals, schools, churches, bridges and other essential facilities and infrastructures were damaged — in some cases, irreparably. The earthquake further exacerbated Haiti’s existing social and economic problems, intensifying food insecurity and access to health services, particularly in rural areas. The nation is still recovering.

Learn how Holt sponsors and donors provided help to Haiti in the wake of these natural disasters.

Holt Donors Help Fund a School Breakfast Program in Haiti

In 2019, Holt launched its breakfast program in Haiti, and today — thanks to the generous support of Holt donors — nearly 900 children eat a tasty, nutritious breakfast at school each day. For many children, these meals have been life-changing. A hearty, protein-filled breakfast of peanut butter sandwiches, corn porridge, bananas, boiled eggs and milk provides them with the fuel they need to concentrate on their studies, participate in activities and develop and grow to their potential.

Learn more about Holt’s breakfast program in Haiti.

Read more stories about how sponsors and donors help children thrive in Haiti.


Learn more about Holt’s work in Haiti!

See how sponsors and donors create a brighter, more hopeful future for children and families in Haiti!

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children in Haiti receiving a meal through Holt sponsorship program

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