Sean Penn: Is the power of celebrity for Haiti relief enough?

Sean Penn: Is the power of celebrity for Haiti relief enough?

Cannes : France | May 19, 2012 at 9:52 AM PDT
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Sean Penn Brings Haiti Plight to Cannes

Cannes Film Institute, together with Sean Penn, hosted a fundraising event for Haiti relief on Friday. This is the third time Cannes has used its name for a charitable event. The first time was in the 1980s for the Pasteur Institute and in the 1990s for rebuilding the Venice Opera House that was destroyed by fire.

On Friday at the Cannes Film Festival, the actor-activist slammed the media and public for abandoning Haiti after the devastating earthquake in 2010.

"It's not only celebrities who went for a day," Penn told reporters of his perceived injustice. "It's the whole f--king world. It's all of you. The reason we have 'Haiti fatigue' is because there was never a commitment in the first place."

It’s been over two years since the January 2010 earthquake that shattered the country leaving the cities in ruin, the people homeless with few resources for survival, and the government infrastructure which was lacking before the quake worse than ever.

The crisis of gender-based violence against women and exploitation continues and foreign aid efforts are still failing to protect survivor communities from harm, or make the criminal justice system more accountable. What is being called “survival sex” has become a common way to get by in an economy that traffics in desperation. Last November and December a research team found that many women and girls had “exchanged sex for food, education or other necessities for themselves and their families.”

The question many were asking last January on the two year anniversary of quake was where did all the money go? Donors pledged an estimated $4.6 billion in the aftermath of the earthquake, according to the U.N., but a small fraction of that of only 43 percent of those relief funds have been disbursed and more than 500,000 Haitians still remain homeless. Part of the problem, watchdog groups say, is that charities spent a considerable amount of money on soaring rents, board members' needs, overpriced supplies and imported personnel, the Miami Herald reports.

Three people at the Canne event paid $100,000 each in an auction to accompany Penn on a three-day trip to Haiti where the actor, a two-time Academy Award winner, has been active since the 2010 earthquake.

Celebrities attending included members of the Cannes jury - actors Ewan McGregor and Diane Kruger and designer Jean Paul Gaultier.

Ben Stiller and Chris Rock, voice stars of animation blockbuster "Madagascar 3," also attended, and designer Giorgio Armani, an event sponsor, made an appearance at the event co-hosted by model Petra Nemcova and "Crash" director and screenwriter Paul Haggis.

President of the Cannes jury four years ago, Penn was named "Ambassador at Large for Haiti" by new President Michel Martelly this year. In the days following the earthquake, Penn started the J/P Haitian Relief.

Rebuilding hope

Hope for Haiti's Children (HFHC) is a 501(c)3 non-profit faith based organization founded in 1995 to educate and care for the impoverished children in Haiti. They have been addressing the needs of Haitian children through an education sponsorship program, health care services, orphan care, and crisis relief efforts. Organizations that pledge not only economic assistance but supply the necessary human intervention by volunteers successfully ensure their efforts reach the people and are not intercepted and encumbered by bureaucracy.

Kofi Annan in an article this year said structured support must be given to fragile states like Haiti for the long term. “Political instability, wide-spread poverty, and the absence of the rule of law and economic opportunity don't just increase people's vulnerability to natural disasters. They create conditions in which terrorism, piracy, corruption and organized crime can thrive and enable these problems to be exported across their borders. In today's interconnected world, countering such trends is in everyone's interest.”

Social Networking

In an interview by Gilbert Mercier of News Junkie Post, Maggy Gousse discusses her use of social networking. Maggy Gousse is a realtor, an actress, and a Creole interpreter at the Superior Court of California. Maggy’s family left Haiti when Papa Doc took power, and she was born in the United States. After numerous phone conversations and before responding to our questions, Maggie Gousse made the following statement: “The idea of giving 10 percent of my income to non-profit organizations such as private orphanages, schools, and other projects took place earlier this year. Like everyone else, I gave money to help organizations such as Oxfam, World Vision, and so on. However, I found out that my money was mostly spent towards keeping the staff from different organizations living “the good life” in Haiti. It is the reason why I came up with this idea to get more involved personally and to spread the word and action through the diaspora.” Disapora is a social networking site.

As individuals turn to faith based and social networks to donate aid and support, celebrities still can direct attention to charitable causes in a way others cannot. The power of celebrity like Sean Penn’s determined and relentless efforts to keep Haiti in the news is one of celebrity’s most powerful actions. They raise funds at charitable events like Cannes, but celebrity sponsored events have the additional benefit of also rekindling media attention and injecting renewed concern by other organizations to the unresolved problems plaguing countries like Haiti that might be too easily forgotten as time dims the images of death and destruction.


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Sean Penn
Canne Film Institute lends its name to fundraising for Haiti hosted by Sean Penn.
Dava Castillo is based in Clearlake, California, United States of America, and is an Anchor on Allvoices.
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