Haiti is a small nation of about 27,750 square miles, located in the Carribbean Sea. It shares the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic. The capitol, Port-au-Prince, is home to more than 2 million people, and the total population of the country is about 9.8 million. More than half of the population is under 20 years old.
Haiti has a unique and important history. It was the first Latin American nation to declare independence in a slave rebellion in 1804. This also made Haiti the first black-led republic in the world. Since the rebellion, Haiti has been ruled by a series of oppressive dictators. It remains the poorest country in the Americas, in part because of the political turmoil and violence that have plagued the country.
On January 12, 2010, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake hit the country, with the epicenter just ouside Port-au-Prince. Some estimates put the death toll for this natural disaster at more than 200,000. Some suggest that, "Haiti will quite literally need to be rebuilt from the ground up."
Adding to the problem of recovery is Haiti's underlying poor health. Many children are unvaccinated, many people have no access to basic health care, and diseases like HIV/AIDS, meningitis, cholera, and tuberculosis have much higher incidence in Haiti than anywhere else in the world.
One organization doing work in Haiti is Paul Farmer's Zanmi Lasante, which is profiled in Mountains Beyond Mountains.
Cange is a village in the Central Plateau of Haiti and the location of Farmer's Partners in Health hospital. In 1956, Cange was flooded by a dam on the Artibonite River. The dam was supposed to promote business and generate power for Port-au-Prince; however, the residents of Cange have not been fairly compensated for their losses, and instead have been forced to live as squatters on the hillsides around the area. Residents of Cange are some of the poorest in Haiti.
In 1962, Father Fritz and Yolande Lafontant founded a school for children in the area, but poor public health meant that most students died from infectious diseases before they grew up. In 1984, Farmer established a community health program in the area. This led to more advanced clinics which helped diagnose the first case of AIDS in the Central Plateau.