The mountainous terrain —“Deye mon, gen mon” (beyond the mountains, more mountains) — has isolated the different parts of the country from each other, retarding true nation-building. The geographical barriers are compounded by the local Creole language, which, while expressive and colorful, cuts off the citizenry from world markets and culture.
When the French colonists brought thousands of Africans in chains to Haiti, the only interest they had in those slaves was their muscle power. They did nothing to educate them. Slave owners even tried to prohibit their slaves from learning to read and write. Then the unthinkable happened. In 1791 a slave revolt broke out in northern Haiti. Napoleon's armies could not quell it. Ten years of bloody struggle followed. Finally, the slaves forced their French masters to withdraw, climaxing the first successful slave rebellion in history. They were, however, a nation of illiterates.
While the Haitians won their political independence, they remained culturally tied to France. Only a tiny minority of Haitians ever mastered the French language. Still, French language and culture were placed on a pedestal. If you craved social status, you had to speak French. Haitians who spoke only Creole, an oral language, were looked down upon. Such cultural and linguistic snobbery created a tiny elite who knew French. The masses who spoke only Creole remained illiterate. Until the middle of this century, no one bothered to put Creole in written form. Only when a Methodist missionary turned oral Creole into a written language did the literacy door finally begin to creak open for Haiti.
Almost every one of Haiti's constitutions has decreed compulsory education. Unfortunately, the government has never found the money to carry out that mandate. In addition, Haiti's chief religion, voodoo, has no sacred book. Thus it does not provide a stimulus either to learn to read or to produce printed material in Haitian's heart language. How different from Christianity, whose converts hunger to learn to read from God's Book!
Not being able to read gives you a kind of blindness. You may have eyes, but your brain cannot interpret what you see on the printed page. As far as comprehending, you may as well be blind. Unless you can read, you are walled off from technological advances, from important health and medical advice, from agricultural breakthroughs. Even God's written Word has no power for you unless someone reads it aloud to you.