Facts About Haiti: Land of High Mountains

Two girls in blue and white smile and clap their hands during a program at the center.

Haiti is found on the western third of the island of Hispaniola in the Caribbean Sea. Haiti shares the island with its neighbor the Dominican Republic and is home to miles of beautiful beaches, striking mountains and resilient people. On the northern coast of Haiti, you will find the Citadelle Laferrière — an impressive mountaintop fortress — and the ruins of the Sans Souci Palace.

Sadly, Haiti is highly vulnerable to natural disasters and food insecurity. Over 20% of children are malnourished, and an estimated 300,000 children are trafficked as “restaveks” — domestic servants. Many Haitians experience extreme poverty and difficult challenges. However, there are also many amazing cultures and traditions to celebrate in this island nation! Here are some interesting facts about Haiti that will help you learn about the nation that is home to over 120,000 Compassion-assisted children.

(Keep reading for a story of how a teenager in Compassion’s program is impacting his country through art!)

Key Facts About Haiti

Here are some quick, interesting facts you should know about Haiti.

  • Population: 11,067,777
  • Capital: Port-au-Prince
  • Official language: French, Creole
  • Area: 10,714 square miles — about the size of Massachusetts
  • Economy: Haiti is currently the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere with nearly 60% of the population living below the poverty line. While there is an abundance of unskilled labor, Haiti lacks skilled labor. Two-fifths of all Haitians work in the agricultural sector, mainly small-scale subsistence farming, which is vulnerable to damage from frequent natural disasters. Agricultural products include coffee, mangoes, cocoa, sugarcane, rice, corn, sorghum, wood and vetiver.

Culture and Traditions of Haiti

The vibrant culture of Haiti bears the influence of the Indigenous Taino, French colonization, West African people — originally brought to the island as slaves — and other European cultures. Here’s just a little more about life in Haiti.

Religion: Religious freedom is granted by the Haitian constitution and is generally respected. In some public schools, Catholic and other clergy play a role in teaching and administration. Nearly 55% of the population identifies as Catholic, and almost 30% of people are Protestant. Many Haitians practice elements of Vodou in addition to another religion. Vodou was recognized as an official religion in 2003.

Clothing: You will find a variety of clothing fashions in Haiti. Women traditionally wear a “quadrille” dress, also known as “karabela” dress. It is a bright, festive garment with a bodice and full skirt — frequently featuring the red and blue colors of the flag. Women often wear complementing headscarves or turbans. Men will traditional wear trousers and a loose, pleated dress shirt known as a “guayabera.” In recent times, many Haitians wear “pepe” — secondhand clothing and shoes typically donated from the United States and sold by street vendors.

General culture: In 1804, former Haitian slaves successfully revolted against French colonial rule — founding the second independent country in the Americas. Today in Haiti, freedom and justice continue to be highly valued and celebrated. Haitians put family first and work as a team to care for one another. For recreation, Haitians love soccer and play it year-round.

Music and Dance of Haiti

Haiti is a country alive with music and dance. Styles, melodies and preferences have changed over time, but music, dance and art remain significant pieces of culture. Energetic pop songs, religious music and jazz can all be heard on the streets of Haiti.

Religious music includes the heavy drumming and chanting of the Vodoun style as well as the Western Catholic styles. Blues, jazz and French music have combined with the tribal spiritual songs to form uniquely Haitian music. Popular music in Haiti is often politically charged with themes of freedom and justice.

The Rara Festival is a lively celebration that takes place every year the week between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. Parades featuring musicians with maracas, bells, saxophones and bamboo trumpets fill the streets while baton twirlers and performers encourage the crowds to dance.

“Compas” or “kompa” is an authentic Haitian style of music and dance. A mix of funk, soul and rap, compas is upbeat and often played with guitars, saxophones and electronic instruments. The accompanying dance can be performed with a partner or solo. Similar to a slow tempo merengue dance, compas has been described as the Haitian version of salsa dancing.

Food and Drink of Haiti

Haitians enjoy Creole cuisine that originated from a blend of West African, French, Indigenous Taino, Spanish and Arab influences. Rice, beans, corn, sweet potatoes, coffee and bananas are staples in Haiti — often grown on subsistence farms. Haiti does not produce enough food to meet demand, and much of its food must be imported.

Soup joumou is a hearty squash soup with many nutritious ingredients. It is said that Haitian slaves were not permitted to eat soup joumou as it was a favorite dish of French slave owners. Now the delicious soup is eaten by all Haitians and is a celebration of freedom. Learn to make this Haitian classic!

Haitian griot is the national dish of Haiti and is made from a cubed pork shoulder marinaded in a sweet, spicy, citrus sauce. Not only is griot delicious, but it pays homage to the African heritage of Haiti. In West African tradition, a “griot” is a historian, diplomat, warrior or other person of high social status.

Akasan is an essential beverage in Haitian cuisine. This creamy shake is made from milk, corn flour, anise stars, vanilla and cinnamon. Whether it is served warm or chilled, akasan is a perfect breakfast drink.

Dous makos will satisfy any sweet tooth! This colorful fudge has three distinct layers — vanilla, chocolate and a red stripe. In 1939, dous makos was invented by the Belgian entrepreneur Fernand Macos, who lived in the town of Petit-Goave.

A Story From Haiti: Art for the Environment

Jetmy has two passions: art and his homeland, Haiti. Both passions of the 13-year-old are being encouraged and developed at his Compassion center, where he has been enrolled for four years.

Through painting classes at the center, Jetmy’s artistic skills are advancing. And Jetmy has also discovered that his art can promote his second passion — raising awareness about protecting Haiti’s natural resources and beauty.

“I love painting animals and the landscape. For me, painting the landscape is a way to remind us how the environment should be, and it’s a call to protect our mountains,” says Jetmy. “I often paint what I don’t see, but what I would like to see in reality.”

This bright young man excels in his schoolwork and hopes to become an internationally known painter. Jetmy’s determination to transmit pride in his country through art combined with the support of his Compassion center is raising awareness among today’s young Haitians about the need to protect their environment and to build a better future for their country.

Ultimately, Jetmy says, “One day, I would like to open a center to teach street children the art of painting and educate them to protect and love Haiti as much as I do.”

Read More Stories From Haiti

BONUS: Fun Fact About Haiti

“Tap-taps” — literally translated as “quick-quicks” — are elaborately decorated buses and trucks that act as the taxi service in Haiti. Painted with a wild mix of bright colors, geometric shapes, flowers, celebrities and religious slogans, tap-taps are a dazzling and ornate means of transportation!

Brightly colored truck used as a taxi

Photos of What Daily Life is Like in Haiti

Do you want to keep learning about the beautiful country of Haiti?

Facts About Compassion and Haiti ›

Each week on the blog, we’re posting an article of facts about a different country where sponsored children live. Keep an eye out for the countries that interest you the most!

28 Comments |Add a comment

  1. Subrina March 1, 2021

    Thank you for your faithful service in Haiti. My first sponsored child was from Haiti and I have had the privilege of sponsoring Haiti girls for the past 31 years. My heart aches for all the natural disasters and political upheavals that have befallen this beautiful country all these years. May our Lord have mercy on the Haitians and their churches!

  2. Celeste Belke November 16, 2020

    It’s so good to learn about our compassion child’s country. It will help in my letter writing to her. Thank you!

  3. Jean Claycomb November 16, 2020

    Thanks for the information about Haiti – I hope to visit one day and meet my sponsored child.

    1. Shannon November 16, 2020

      Hi Jean,
      Thank you so much for reading our blog! It is an honor to have you in our Compassion family! Praying continued blessings over your relationship with your sweet child and pray one day you will be able to meet face to face!

  4. Joy Daniels November 13, 2020

    Thank-you for the blog. It was so good to see some of Haiti.

  5. Jana Martin November 13, 2020

    Thank you for this beautiful blog of Haiti. We love Haiti took our family there on a mission trip. Actually got to meet our first Compassion child while there. Now we are sponsoring another Haitian child and would love to go back someday. We Love what you are doing to spread Jesus love to these dear people whom He loves. Blessings , Jana Martin

  6. Marilyn Carlson November 11, 2020

    What a beautiful country! God is an artist indeed. The painting is beautiful! Is it possible to buy one? I would love to support the people in Haiti. Thank you for sharing!

    1. Anna November 11, 2020

      Thank you for your heart to support the beautiful people of Haiti, Marilyn. At this time, those paintings are not for sale, but we appreciate your desire to own one of Jetmy’s masterpieces! If you have any other questions, you are welcome to email us at [email protected]. We are happy to help!

  7. Jodie Owen November 11, 2020

    Thank you so very much for sharing this information!! Beautiful people, beautiful country. Love seeing the place where Roschleader lives!! I’m going to try the soup!!
    Jodie Owen

  8. Jennifer Childs November 11, 2020

    Thank you so much for all of that wonderful information about Haiti! I appreciate knowing about where my child is from and what life may be like for her and her family. God bless you all. ❤️

  9. DAVID LITTLEFIELD November 11, 2020

    What a wonderful resource of life in Haiti! Prior to your in-depth report, I had only a vague knowledge of the country. It is sad to learn of the high rate of poverty and limited work opportunities available. But thank God for Compassion International and your commitment to coordinate sponsors for so many lives! Barbara and I consider it a privilege to sponsor Jonelson. May your influence continue to grow and challenge many more to feel God’s leadership in sponsoring children.

    To God be the glory!

    David/Barbara Litttlefield

  10. Deborah A Thompson November 11, 2020

    In 2016, I went on a mission trip to Cap-Haitien, Haiti. I can attest to the fact that it is a beautiful country full of very gratious people. We did some cleanup after the mudslides that occurred that year, spent time with orphans, and installed water filters. I even got to ride in the tap-taps while there. Thank you so much for this blog. It brought back a lot of memories of my time there. I have been sponsoring my Haitian child since 2017.

  11. Elizabeth Soltesz Hart November 11, 2020

    thank you for the valuable information. will help me know more about the environment that my child lives int.

  12. Lee Ann Arney November 11, 2020

    Thank you for the info. I think it will help me to connect more with my sponsor child and his family.

  13. Nancy BienAimé November 11, 2020

    I am from Haiti and it’s good to see how much extra time you put in searching all these facts about this beautiful country. Too bad things aren’t going well there right now but God is faithful. I visited last year in 2019 and it was a blessing seein my sponsor child Fednol Tony.
    Thank you for the information!
    May Gods work continue around the world!

  14. Shawn Gillham November 11, 2020

    My mouth dropped when I saw Jetmy’s painting and I am sure God has a plan for his future. Thank you for this article.

  15. Marie Edith Giraud November 11, 2020

    Thank you for this! Truly touched my heart. My parents are Haïtian and although I inherently know much of the culture through osmosis, they hardly ever talk about their previous life in Haiti. Sponsoring a child in Haïti is also putting a salve on me as well! God is amazing.

  16. Roy Bartoo November 11, 2020

    I am thankful for the information about the country and culture of one of my children . It is also heartwarming to know that my children and so many others are being so well served by Compassion . I am inspired and wish I could do more .

  17. Maureen Rice November 10, 2020

    Love this informative blog. Having 3 children in Compassion in Haiti right now it is very helpful. I have been to visit my kiddos through Compassion in 2018 and it was a blessing of a lifetime!

  18. Jenn Basiks-Kervahn November 10, 2020

    Thank you for the information on Haiti. It is nice to see the environment that my son in God comes from. I started sponsoring my young son last year and have enjoyed writing letters to him and seeing his letters in return. I am grateful that God has blessed me and I am able to spread some of my blessings to my son in God in Haiti. I hope and pray that the pandemic will end soon and all of God’s children will remain safe and taken care of. Thank you for all the work you do with the children. -Jenn Basiks-Kervahn. 10 November 2020

  19. Charlene M Moody November 10, 2020

    I love learning about the countries the kids I sponsor live in. Thank you for sharing this and thank you for all you do!

  20. Ray Smith November 10, 2020

    Oh, how Glorious to see the content of where the precious ones I sponsor live. This blog content adds so much depth and dimension to my heart as to how life is for them and where their hearts are in the Lord. Thank You for this uplifting.

  21. POLLY SUNTKEN November 10, 2020

    Thank you for this blog about the country of Haiti. My Compassion Int. child lives in Haiti. So interesting to read about her country! I enjoyed reading the Authentic words of her country! I will add some of these words to my next letter to her! Food items and words about traditional activities are great for me to know!
    In Christ… stay safe and healthy!

  22. Alison Doyle November 10, 2020

    Dear Compassion,

    Is it possible for families to visit Haiti and if so, what age do the children need to be?

    1. Mackenzie November 10, 2020

      Hi Alison! Regrettably, due to the global pandemic, all of our visits are currently cancelled. However, we hope we will be able to offer child visits again soon! I would encourage you periodically check this page on our website, as it will be updated with the most accurate information: https://www.compassion.com/get-involved/trips-visits.htm . If you have any questions, please send us an email at [email protected]. We would be happy to speak with you further!

  23. Michael S Stine November 10, 2020

    Praise God for your hearts. Thank you so much for putting this blog together. I live in the Nashville TN area and with all that is going on around us. It becomes too easy to forget others struggles while we go through ours. Not that all we go through is struggles, because with God we have new blessings every day. I am grateful for Compassions International and the love that they extend on my behalf. My wife and I participated with God in Haiti in the mid nineties (In the Delmas Road area), my son and I were able to participate with God at an orphanage in the early 2000’s (East of Port a Prince). The connectivity that you provide allows us to understand the blessings that each of us experiences in God in different climate, culture, and geography. God is so good and I pray blessings upon each of you and your readers. Never forget who we are in Christ as brothers and sisters.

  24. Gracy Fernandes November 4, 2020

    Thank you for sharing on Haiti, you give a good overall view of the people, culture and life in Haiti. I am a missionary in Haiti in Fonds Parisien, in the south west district of Ganthier. I am interested in Sponsorship as I have direct hands on work experience with children in India and Madagascar . My doctoral thesis was on Child Sponsorship and it was published in 2015 in India. In Haiti we work with children and their families and try to sponsor around 100 children to go to school. We have study classes for them in our Social Centre and provide them with nutrition before they begin their studies.
    I was in contact with Compassion International in India. Gracy Fernandes. 4 November 2020

    1. Christina November 5, 2020

      Hi Gracy! We truly appreciate your heart for our ministry and your desire to work with us in Haiti! Please send us an email to [email protected] so we can discuss the possibility of partnership. Thank you!

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