Beautiful and haunting, Haiti was already labeled the poorest country in the western hemisphere before the massive 2010 earthquake that devastated the small Caribbean nation.

That 7.0-magnitude quake killed or displaced hundreds of thousands of people, and left the government and infrastructure in shambles. People who were already poor were suddenly homeless. Clinics and hospitals were overrun. Schools were destroyed. Injury and death tore families apart.

The UN estimates that the more than 80 percent of Haitians living in extreme poverty—those who earn less than $1.25 a day—live in rural areas. They struggle to grow enough food to feed their families, and are plagued by deadly waterborne illnesses.

It may take decades to rebuild Haiti, but with a focus on health and education, and by improving household and community livelihoods, we are determined to provide long term, sustainable support.

What We Do

Free the Children began work in Haiti in 2002, focusing our efforts on the Central Plateau region, which is the most rural and underdeveloped part in the country.

We work in four rural communities in the mountains outside of Port-au-Prince to:

  • Remove obstacles and improve access to a quality education for rural, displaced and orphaned children.
  • Ensure that rural populations have access to essential services like water and health care, allowing them to sustain themselves in the countryside.
  • Promote rural community development and support efforts that prevent Port au Prince from becoming a concentrated hub.
  • Help Haiti realize its goal of universal education.

Here are some of the projects we are proud to work on with our partner communities.   


More than 4,000 schools were lost in the 2010 earthquake, and thousands of children were left with no opportunities for primary education. Currently, less than half of Haitian adults can read, and only three in four children attend primary school. By high school, that number falls to one in four. Despite hard work and best intentions, the country is far from achieving a plan for universal education and schools are unsafe, ill-equipped, overcrowded, or, too often, non-existent. We partners with communities to:

  • Build and rehabilitate schools
  • Outfit classrooms with furnishings and textbooks
  • Provide educational programming
  • Offer teacher training and capacity building
  • Distribute school supplies

Clean Water and Sanitation

Haiti’s water and sanitation system is in a state of crisis, made worse by the 2010 earthquake that destroyed wells and vital infrastructure. Somewhere between 50 and 70 percent of Haitians lack access to drinkable water, and only one in five has access to a sanitary toilet, according to water.org.

Dry climate, soil erosion and deforestation are also affecting the country’s water quality, and rural communities are especially hard hit.

Unsafe drinking water and poor sanitation facilities lead to diseases like cholera, diarrhea and typhoid, which populations struggle to overcome with a shortage of health care options. These preventable diseases are thought to be responsible for half of all deaths in Haiti. We help by providing:

  • Clean water systems, including wells, hand pumps, spring harvesting, piping, and rain water collection
  • Hand-washing stations
  • Latrines
  • Distribution of water purification tablets


Haitians are plagued by poor nutrition, water quality, and sanitation facilities. To make things worse, a dire shortage of medical staff makes access to health services difficult or impossible for many people, especially those living in rural communities. According to the World Health Organization, diarrhea, HIV/AIDS, meningitis, and respiratory infections are the most common causes of death in Haiti. We help in our partner communities by providing:

  • Delivery and distribution of medical equipment and supplies
  • Health education and training
  • Community radio program on health
  • Playgrounds to promote exercise

Agriculture and Food Security

Nearly half of Haitians are considered “food insecure”, according to the Food Security Portal, meaning they lack adequate access to proper amounts of quality food, and the country is ranked 77 out of 79 in the 2012 Global Hunger Index. This leaves people malnourished, vulnerable to disease and often unproductive. We help by building and creating:

  • Emergency feeding programs and ongoing support
  • School gardens and school nutrition programs
  • New kitchens, which we also help to outfit with supplies

Alternative Income and Livelihood

Widespread unemployment and underemployment make it difficult for Haitians to pull themselves out of poverty. It’s estimated that more than two-thirds of the labor force do not have formal jobs, according to the CIA World Factbook. Despite this, there are great opportunities for people in Haiti to improve their earning potential. We help by facilitating solidarity groups and animal husbandry programs.

Transforming a Community: Dos Palais, Haiti

Dos Palais is a model for rehabilitation across Haiti. Through the sheer hard work and determination of local people, this community is quickly becoming holistic and sustainable. When Free The Children first met with members of Dos Palais, they made it clear that improving education was they key to alleviating poverty and supporting long-term recovery here.

Less than six months following the earthquake, we broke ground on a new school site in Dos Palais. The new school is a full educational complex, outfitted with brand-new latrines that are easy to clean and maintain, a new well and hand pump, enough classrooms to allow for growth, a school kitchen from which a meal is provided every day, and beautiful school grounds that parents and students work together to landscape and garden.

Since Dos Palais partnered with Free The Children and Adopt a Village, huge improvements have been made to the lives and wellbeing of the people who live here. Here’s how:


When we arrived in 2010, the old school was crumbling. Classrooms were dark, leaky and overcrowded, and students had no source of drinking or washing water. The teachers complained of insufficient materials and children lacked school supplies. The schoolyard was full of mud and had no playground.

We partnered with the community to re-build Dos Palais Primary School, and are proud of what we’ve achieved together:

  • The land was donated and the school is run in partnership with a community-based organization.
  • Only community members were employed in the construction process, which has contributed significantly to the economy in the region.
  • The school buildings are built to paraseismic code out of durable, high-grade materials.
  • Construction in mountainous Haiti can often be destructive, but in Dos Palais, not a single tree was cut and the team worked with the natural grade of the land.
  • The large, airy, bright classrooms are fully outfitted with all necessary school furnishings.
  • When asked what color the children wanted to paint their school, every grade selected a different color, and so each school block at Dos Palais is painted a different color of the rainbow.
  • With our support, teachers have been trained in new teaching techniques.
  • Each student has been given a school kit, and teachers are equipped with textbooks and other necessary materials.
  • Student performance has improved by 40 percent.

Clean Water and Sanitation

School is an important place for rural children to access clean water. When we built the new school in Dos Palais, we made sure the number of latrines exceeded the UN standard of one per 40 students.

  • The new well and hand pump provide direct access to clean water for drinking, cooking and hand washing at the school.
  • Students are regularly being trained on hand-washing practices as well as personal hygiene habits.


School is also the perfect venue to educate students—and by extension parents—on healthy lifestyle practices.

  • We provide coaching on health practices and offer health kits for students.
  • Free The Children has also been supporting local clinics to better serve the community.
  • We have shipped millions of dollars in medical supplies to Haiti, and the Haiti team has ensured that they have reached the small clinics that serve rural community members.
  • Free The Children supports a health education radio program that plays throughout the commune of Hinche, where Dos Palais is situated.
  • To improve student health, a school lunch program serves a nutritious lunch to students every day.

The school serves local children as well as others displaced by the earthquake, and is the feeder school for a large girl’s orphanage nearby. The families in Dos Palais are proud and deeply invested.

Esdras, the father of a grade three student told us, “The school represents light for our community. It is as though we were in the dark and now we see the light for our children and our future. Now they have the chance at an education, and the well is the cleanest water we have had in our community. No one has been infected with cholera since it was drilled.”

In October 2011 when President Martelly inaugurated the school, he opened his address after a moment of silently looking around the campus saying that he never imagined that he would arrive so far in the countryside to find a school that is a model for education in the country.

Needless to say, Dos Palais Primary School is the pride and joy of the community that has poured so much hard work, labor and love into building it.

Empowerment In Action

Samantha Joseph is a 15-year-old grade five student at Dos Palais School.

When she was five years old, she lost her family in a house fire and began to work as a child servant. While permitted to attend school in the afternoons, as long as her work was completed, Samantha was mistreated. At the age of 10, she ran away and took to the streets.

Months later, Samantha met a woman who took her in and then brought her to the child protection agency in Haiti responsible for orphans. Even prior to the earthquake, there were estimates of a shocking 300,000 orphans or abandoned children in Haiti. Samantha was transferred to the “Centre d’Acceuil” in Dos Palais, an orphanage for nearly 200 children, most of whom are young girls. There, they receive three healthy meals a day, mentorship, love and safety. They also attend the neighboring Free The Children school.

Samantha loves her new school, and when she grows up wants to be a nurse so that she can help others stay healthy. She also dreams of being an agronomist and working with plants. She tends to the school flower garden and is the most active farmer in the orphanage’s vegetable garden.

Samantha now speaks with a new sense of hope, and is looking forward to what the future will bring.