CNN posted yesterday an in-depth profile of Haitian musician Wyclef Jean, highlighting his charitable work in Haiti. Here are some excerpts, with a link to the full article and a gallery of photographs below.
When the 7.0 tremor ripped through the small Caribbean nation of Haiti on January 12, burying thousands under the rubble and wreaking havoc on the country’s infrastructure, there was no moment of hesitation for Wyclef Jean. Just a few hours later, the Haitian-born musician was aboard a renegade plane on a mission to reach the isolated island and help those who had felt the full force of the destructive quake. “You couldn’t fly into Haiti because the airport tower was broken, so we got a renegade pilot and got in through the Dominican Republic,” he told CNN. “We flew low so as not collide with other planes and made an emergency landing; it was like something you see in the movies, something people would think we were nuts to do,” he explained.
For one of Haiti’s most famous sons, this was both a personal tragedy and a call of duty. “The mentality was that I had to be there, so they could see me on the ground. Picking up bodies and bringing them to the cemeteries, helping to bury people. I felt it would have been strange to sit in New York with my arms crossed and wait a few days,” Jean said.
The Grammy-winning rapper spent his first days roaming around capital Port-au-Prince, searching for bodies trapped under the ruins. Jean says the wrenching scenes of devastation that he confronted in the city’s slum neighborhoods will haunt him for life. “I’ve seen the eyes of the physicians in the aftermath; I’ve never, in the existence of mankind, ever seen such a thing. People roaming the streets with broken arms, broken legs, knowing it’s only a matter of time before they die.”
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In 2005, he set up Yele Haiti, a grassroots non-profit organization whose objective is to “restore pride and a reason to hope” to the Haitian people through projects that will allow them ultimately to help themselves, such as food distribution, support for the arts and emergency relief. Jean coined the term “Yele” after a slang word in Creole and imbued it with the meaning, “a scream for freedom. Yele Haiti symbolizes a movement, not a charity,” Jean told CNN. “We’re screaming for freedom of the mind. The 21st-century Haiti has to start with the youth revolutionizing their mind. This was the whole idea when we started Yele: we wanted for kids to raise their self esteem.”
In its first year, the foundation provided scholarships to 3,600 children following the devastation wreaked by Hurricane Jeanne.
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Jean has often used his celebrity status and personal charisma to raise awareness and promote long-term progress for the Western Hemisphere’s poorest nation. He has lobbied the U.S. government to allocate more educational funds to Haiti and to encourage American companies to invest in the local market. He brought former U.S. President Bill Clinton and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to tour the region and used the public profile of actors such as Matt Damon, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie to create awareness of Haiti’s plight.