In 2010 Haiti was devastated by a 7.0 earthquake that left over 300,000 dead and 1.5 million homeless, according to the Haitian government. However, long before the natural disaster hit the Caribbean nation, the country had been suffering from extreme poverty and struggled to feed and provide shelter for its population of almost 10 million.

Haiti shares the island of Hispaniola (where in 1492 renowned explorer Christopher Columbus established the first European settlement) with the Dominican Republic, however, it’s considered to be the poorest country in the western hemisphere while the latter is a popular tourist destination.

Environmental differences do contribute to part of Haiti’s troubles, such as the nation’s high mountainous ranges that cut off rainfall from the eastern part of the island, but historical conflicts and deforestation are unarguably leading causes for the major difference between the two countries.

In the late 17th century, Spain ceded the western part of the island to France and renamed the area Saint-Domingue. They successfully turned the small colony into a wealthy sugar and coffee producing enterprise, however, slave labor became essential economic development.

Nations Online reports, “Under French colonial rule, nearly 800,000 slaves arrived from Africa, accounting for a third of the entire Atlantic slave trade. Many died from disease and the harsh conditions of the sugar and coffee plantations.”
The slaves revolted against the French and won their independence in 1804, thus changing the name to Haiti meaning mountainous, but with a high price. A treaty was signed 20 years later recognizing their freedom, but at a cost of for 150 million gold Francs.

The country’s trees were exported to France to pay the debt, which was finally paid off in 1947. The deforestation sadly continues because Haitians use trees for fuel and charcoal, which provides their energy source since oil is too expensive for the impoverished country to purchase.

As a result of baron forests, mudslides and flooding take place creating man made disasters in addition to natural occurrences.
There is a lot to do in Haiti to help rebuild the country. Volunteers are needed to teach children, work in healthcare, women’s empowerment and construction.

If you’ve volunteered in Haiti we’d love to hear about your experience. Please let us know which organization you signed up with, what your trip was like and if you’d recommend the program to others.


Capital: Port-au-Prince

Population: 9,996,731
[Source: The World Factbook]

Religion: Roman Catholic 80%, Protestant 16% (Baptist 10%, Pentecostal 4%, Adventist 1%, other 1%), none 1%, other 3%

Note: roughly half of the population practices voodoo
[Source: The World Factbook]

Language: French (official), Creole (official)
[Source: The World Factbook]

Location: Caribbean, western one-third of the island of Hispaniola, between the Caribbean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean, west of the Dominican Republic
[Source: The World Factbook]

Poverty Level: 77%
[Source: The World Bank]

Climate: The climate is tropical, with some variation depending on altitude. Port-au-Prince ranges in January from an average minimum of 23° C (73° F ) to an average maximum of 31° C (88° F ); in July, from 25–35° C (77–95° F ). The rainfall pattern is varied, with rain heavier in some of the lowlands and on the northern and eastern slopes of the mountains. Port-au-Prince receives an average annual rainfall of 137 cm (54 in). There are two rainy seasons, April–June and October–November. Haiti is subject to periodic droughts and floods, made more severe by deforestation. Hurricanes are also a menace.
[Source: Encyclopedia of the Nations]

Vaccines: The CDC recommends that travelers receive Hepatitis A, Marilia and Typhoid shots. They also recommend that depending on the area you’re traveling to, some should also get Hepatitis B, Rabies and Yellow Fever vaccines.
[Source: Center for Disease Control and Prevention]

Currency: Haitian Gourde

Fact: Even before the quake, 1.9 million people were ‘food insecure’, meaning they needed assistance to stave off hunger. Only 50 percent of Haiti population has access to safe drinking water.
[Source: World Food Program]