When most people hear the name Sean Penn, they think of movies such as Mystic River, Dead Man Walking and Colours. Who knew that this celebrated actor was a selfless philanthropist and humanitarian as well? In the aftermath of the deadly earthquake that hit Haiti in January 2010, a number of countries, organisations and individuals sought to offer aid. One such individual is none other than the two time Academy Award winner, Sean Penn himself. Of course it was strange to see a celebrity of his stature living in those surroundings; however Penn and other celebrities such as actress Maria Bello have taken on the great cause to help to rebuild Haiti.
Penn’s Quick Efforts
The actor defied sceptics and stormed onto the scene of one of the worst natural disasters and humanitarian crises in history, putting down roots in Haiti, a country he hadn't even visited before the earthquake. He then became a major figure in the effort to rebuild, making Haiti his second home. "My job is to help people get the future they want to have," he said.
The Haiti that Penn saw when he arrived in the country for the first time about a week after the earthquake was apocalyptic, a tableau of death and destruction. His initial role as the head of a small band of volunteers quickly morphed into the unofficial mayor of a golf course-turned-homeless camp and became a member of the president's circle, one who addresses investors at aid conferences and represents Haiti worldwide.
The J/P Haitian Relief Organization
Penn and Diana Jenkins, a Southern California philanthropist, put together a planeload of supplies and volunteers – seven doctors and 23 relief workers. They called themselves the Jenkins/Penn Haitian Relief Organization, which changed to J/P HRO after Jenkins’ involvement waned.
With a budget of more than a million/month, J/P HRO now operates out of an airy office space in a former school, has a fleet of trucks and heavy equipment, a staff of 300 and hires many labourers. An excerpt from the J/P HRO site reads: "Our mission is simple: to save lives and bring relief to the Haitian people quickly and effectively”. Penn and his staff say this mission evolved as new challenges surfaced. They have taken over clinics and schools, provided rental assistance and repaired damaged homes, allowing other groups, such as Save the Children, to focus elsewhere.
Penn and J/P HRO have a good reputation in Haiti, but there have been lapses of faith. He was criticized for encouraging thousands of people from his camp to move to Corail-Cesselesse, a ‘desolate’ field about 10 miles north of Port-au-Prince.
He is now an ambassador-at-large for President Michel Martelly, the first non-Haitian to receive the designation, and the CEO of the J/P Haitian Relief Organization. The actor was also honoured in April with the 2012 Peace Summit Award at the 12th World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates in Chicago. He used his speech to urge the global community to remember Haiti and invest in the country's future.
Where Is Penn Now?
When not at home in Los Angeles, Penn spends about half his time in Haiti and public sightings are common. Later this year, he will appear in "Gangster Squad," a movie about the Los Angeles Police Department's fight against mobsters with a cast that includes Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone and Josh Brolin.
In the same way than Penn’s career portrays him as a powerful film performer capable of intensely moving work, so does his work in Haiti. He has gone to great lengths to help a country stricken by poverty and shattered by pain and despair. Indeed, he is one to thank as Haiti continues to re-build a country torn by natural disaster. Navito (TCC)