For almost a full year, Sean Penn has been sleeping in a tent in Haiti in one of the largest camps barely housing more than a million people left homeless by last January’s earthquake.
And Penn says the people under his care at the Petion-Ville Club, and others throughout Port-au-Prince are barely any closer to permanent housing then they were a year ago.
“The [current] projects are shelter-focused with connective tissues to basic services, but even the most well-funded among them are poised to take very small cautious steps in terms of permanent housing,” Penn told us of the current situation on the ground in Port-au-Prince. “There are 1.2 million people displaced, and only small pilot projects in the foreseeable future. The current challenge is the definition or the selection of beneficiaries [for funds both raised and promised], meaning among these extremely vulnerable populations, we can expect nothing more than demonstration models in 2011.”
In March, Penn was named an International Organization of Migration-designated camp manager at the Petionville Golf Club facility, which, according to AOL News, is “one of the most complex temporary camps in Haiti” with more than 55,000 residents. J/P HRO, the organization Penn founded with Sarajevo-born philanthropist Diana Jenkins, has provided mobile medical units that regularly treat 350-400 patients a week in neighborhoods near Petionville and in camps that do not provide medical services. The organization has also opened a women’s clinic — one fully run by Haitian women — that has provided 7,000 women with medical care and has offered family planning, hygiene and prenatal education services to nearly a thousand more. A temporary school has also been built in camp, and the organization has been recognized by IOM (the United Nations agency responsible for camp management and coordination) for its rubble removal method.
The two-time Oscar winner, who next stars in acclaimed director Terrence Malick’s ‘Tree of Life,’ believes that one of the more pressing needs in the country right now is greater oversight of the money pledged early last year at the U.N.’s Haiti donor conference.
“Quite frankly, in a time where most call for either a recount or a complete do-over of the election, it’s my view that the Haitian people would be better served by complete do-over of the donor’s conference. Rather than smoke-and-mirror pledges of money, the international donors would be held to the same value of their initial pledges,” he said. “But they’d also have to specify what area of infrastructure they’d take responsibility to implement, and by what date, so the value of their pledges would come to completion. We need this accountability in housing, schools, hospitals, and nationwide access to clean water.”
Asked if there was any one thing he felt wasn’t being given enough attention in the worldwide conversation on the disaster in Haiti, Penn told us, “Yes. I believe it’s time for our country’s donors to be educated about where their dollars go and, in the future, be able to guide those dollars to the organizations that truly represent their intentions.”
Discussing his work in Haiti earlier this month with The Hollywood Reporter, the actor said he hopes to spend as much of this year as possible in the island nation. He will likely, however, have to return to acting sooner than he expected. “I didn’t have commitments, except for way in the future; I had nothing pressing,” he told THR of how he was able to spend most of 2010 in Haiti. “I got practical issues [now] … I had just got taken for one-half of everything I had in the divorce [from actress Robin Wright], so it’s not like I don’t have to work.”
But Penn’s commitment to Haiti remains unwavering. “There is no exit for me until there is more life than death. I can always see light in any situation,” he told Vanity Fair last summer. “I can see the light very clearly in terms of the ‘big picture’ for Haiti.”
SMH at throwing his ex-wife under the bus in the midst of being a good guy. And at the international community for fake-holding Haiti down.