Haiti is located on the island of Hispaniola in the Carribean and it is part of the West Indies. The county of Haiti occupies the western third of the island of Hispaniola, which it shares with the Dominican Republic. It is about the size of Maryland. Haiti is two-thirds mountainous, with the rest of the country marked by great valleys, extensive plateaus, and small plains. Since for many years Haiti was the French colony called Saint-Domingue, its official language is French with people speaking a French dialect called Haitian Creole.
During the French colonial period and fueled with slave labor, Saint-Domingue was the wealthiest country in the western hemisphere. After a 13 year battle for independence in 1804 the slave led insurrectionists won, securing their independence and renaming the county Haiti. Slavery was immediately abolished; making Haiti the first country in the western hemisphere to abolish slavery. Yet for most of its 200 year history since then, Haiti has been governed by corrupt and brutal dictators. While the country is now democratic, severe political gridlock has made it weak and ineffective. The great majority of the people of Haiti today are economically, culturally, and spiritually impoverished.
Presently, most Haitians live in sparse shacks without any modern conveniences ( indoor plumbing, electricity, telephone). Most Haitians do not have access to safe drinking water or basic healthcare. The child mortality rate is one of the highest in the world. Many Haitian children are malnourished. Public education is not free or readily available. Only about half of Haitian children are able to attend school.
Officially, the population is 80 percent Catholic, 16 percent Protestant and 4 percent other. In practice, many Haitians both prefess to be Christians and worship the vodou loas. Vodou is a powerful influence in Haitian culture. Vodou is the syntheseis of Catholicism and African paganism that was created when Catholicism was forced upon the slaves. Vodou continues the worship of African loas (gods) under a veneer of Catholicism. The people of Haiti have a great spiritual need.