Sean Penn, Haiti, and Me

I promise I won’t hijack this blog’s content and turn it into all-Haiti-all-the-time, and yet, since I leave in a month, it is foremost in my mind. What scares me is how it is NOT foremost in the minds of more people, as I surely believe it ought to be. It has been six months since the January 12 earthquake that killed hundreds of thousands and displaced millions. The international response was amazing and millions upon millions of dollars were pledged to help the nation heal—ay, there’s the rub. Only about 10% of those promised funds have materialized. Nations and corporations and private funders have not bellied up to the bar and written their checks. I was under the mistaken impression that Haiti had almost too much money and couldn’t adequately spend it to put systems into place. Nope–the money never showed up. You might have pledged some yourself–where is it? This is how I can come to learn, as I recently have from a colleague, that in the town I will be working in, Jacmel, a collective of more than 300 artists and their families that were all made homeless from the quake–only 20 of those families have tents, and they have not seen any foreign aid or aid workers for months. MONTHS! There is no relief money or food from outside sources–a Haitian company gives them enough rice and beans for one meal a day. That is the extent of what they are receiving. And yesterday, the first of the season’s storms hit Haiti, tearing down more than a thousand tents in the refugee camps, and starting the wet season where flooding is guaranteed (and all those other goodies, like increased malaria from the boon in mosquito populations. I got my anti-malaria prescription yesterday–and tetanus shot, etc). Hurricane season runs until November–can you imagine what will happen if a hurricane hits in this, what the weather predictors say will be a higher-than-average season for tropical storms?

In the face of all this impossibility, Sean Penn is a genuine inspiration to me, and you as well, I hope. Just hours after the earthquake hit, Penn and Diana Jenkins were in action, mobilizing to cut through the masses of red tape and intertioa to get help to the people on the ground as quickly as possible. Already experienced through their work in New Orleans post-Katrina, Penn’s J/P HRO (Haitian Relief Organization) has been in Haiti since the first days after the tragedy in January, and are still there now. Sean is sticking it out: “In our case, we came down with the idea of spending two weeks and trying to help out,” said Penn. “There’s something that takes over and it’s really an obligation because you see the strength of the people who have never experienced comfort, and the gifts that that can give to people like myself and to our country and culture. You see the enormous gaps.”

In addition to their remarkably effective work of cutting through the obstacles and moving mountains, J/P HRO has started their Beat the Rain Campaign to help relocate and provide safe temporary shelter for more than 50,000 earthquake victims

Without safe shelter, the lives of hundreds of thousands of homeless Haitians are at risk.

As flooding starts, Haiti faces a public health disaster that could be as great as the earthquake itself…so if you can’t come with me in a few weeks, will you find a way to support this hugely important work? Visit Sean’s website to educate yourself. Donate. Ask me questions–if I don’t know the answers, I’ll find out. Share this with me, and share your strength with Haiti.

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