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FEATURE STORY

Sean Penn: It's time to seize opportunities in Haiti

May 3, 2013

CEO and Founder of J/P Hatian Relief Organization, Sean Penn.

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Now is the time to seize opportunities in Haiti said Sean Penn, CEO & Founder of J/P Haitian Relief Organization.
  • No perfect response to a disaster, but nothing happens without partnerships.
  • CEO & Founder of J/P HRO, Sean Penn talked candidly about his work in Haiti, expressing hope for the country’s future.

Stressing the remarkable progress Haiti has made since the fateful earthquake in 2010, Sean Penn, CEO & Founder of the J/P Haitian Relief Organization (J/P HRO), called on the international community to continue its support to the Caribbean nation as it experiences a rebirth of sorts.  

Speaking at the World Bank headquarters, Penn said that now is the time to seize opportunities in Haiti, a nation which can provide “incredible value” to other countries as well as to itself, especially by virtue of its private sector, Penn said.

“Haitians are ready and willing to be the soldiers of change,” he noted. “We need to identify them, work with them and be willing to accept their guidance.”
 
Penn, who founded the J/P HRO in the wake of the 2010 quake, spoke candidly to Hasan Tuluy, World Bank Vice-President for Latin America and the Caribbean about his experiences in the country.  

Arriving in Haiti a week after the earthquake with the sole objective of distributing morphine and ketamine to emergency trauma units within the country, Penn initially expected to stay for just two weeks. But as the tide began to turn and the emergency relief organizations began to leave, he decided to stay, working with local Haitians to build J/P HRO.

J/P HRO is dedicated to saving lives and bringing sustainable programs to the Haitian people quickly and effectively. J/P HRO works with both government and non-government agencies to deliver immediate results where the need is greatest. Principle efforts include providing emergency medical and primary care services, delivering badly needed medical equipment and medicine, rubble removal facilitating community regeneration, management of Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps, distributing food and water purification systems, improving communication systems, and developing housing and education facilities.

The goal of J/P HRO is to support the residents of the camps they manage and surrounding areas transition from life left homeless by the earthquake to durable, sustainable and prosperous communities.

With a staff nearly 400 strong and 98 percent Haitian, J/P HRO continues to evolve as an organization renowned for sustainable, community-driven development.

Open Quotes

Haitians are ready and willing to be the soldiers of change. We need to identify them, work with them and be willing to accept their guidance Close Quotes

Sean Penn
CEO & Founder of J/P Hatian Relief Organization

Partnerships are key

Speaking today, three years on from the earthquake, Penn admitted that while there is no perfect response to a disaster, the key is for organizations to work together.

“Nothing happens without partnerships,” he stated. Describing the gaps he saw when traveling around the affected area in his first two weeks after the earthquake, he voiced his frustrations at a lack of a functional and collaborative cooperation between organizations from the outset. But he stressed that partnerships aren’t needed solely at an organizational level and that beneficiaries should also be partners.

“If someone is in great need, and their experience of those who want to help them is to pat them on the back to make themselves feel good. They ask for the money in your pocket. Ask them again, what they need and again they’ll ask for money. Ask them a third time and convince them that you are there to stay you’ll get a different answer. Then you can seed it, water it with the people and begin to see real change”.

Now as the response in Haiti changes pace and turns towards reconstruction and development, both Penn and Tuluy admitted this poses a new challenge. However, Penn clarified that there are as many opportunities in the country as there are people.
In highlighting the point, he cited the example of a community center originally set up in the Petionville IDP camp which is managed by the J/P Haitian Relief Organization. Using funds from their first World bank grant, a building in the neighboring community was repurposed to house children's activities and adult education classes; all run by the community for the community.

But the spirit of partnership and cooperation, which is so key to Haiti’s recovery, is not limited to those within the country’s borders. The Haitian diaspora also has a vital role to play, as Vice-President Tuluy explained.

“There is an enormous human capital, intelligence, energy, capacity for networking out there in the diaspora,” he emphasized. “We need to create conditions where the diaspora is brought in and contribute as they are keen to do.”

They would then help promote much needed private sector growth, which Penn recognized as a key developmental challenge for the country, despite an overwhelming willingness to work.

“It is not a beggar culture, when people approach me it’s for a job,” he explained. “[But] you’re not going to get investment where there isn’t electricity access or you have to deal with security issues, which are health related.”

Such private sector growth would also stop brain drain, which Penn warns will be a problem if the focus is solely on education.

 “There is an emergency in education. Up to the age of 5 years old, if you haven’t fed or exercised these minds, then you won’t get them back. But if you are only focused on education, then you educate them out of the country. You need to have jobs on the other side,”  he warned.

Summing up, Penn noted that “Now is an important moment for Haiti. A time to seize opportunities.”  The growth of the internet and social media has shown young Haitians that development is a human right, meaning that “Haiti cannot fall into the old pattern.”

“Enough waiting,” he concluded, “Let’s rock and roll.”

Penn also met with World Bank President Jim Yong Kim and core Bank staff.

ABOUT J/P HAITIAN RELIEF ORGANIZATION

J/P Haitian Relief Organization is dedicated to saving lives and bringing sustainable programs to the Haitian people quickly and effectively. Following the tragic earthquake of 2010 J/P HRO began working immediately to make an impact in Haiti. J/P HRO works with both government and non-governmental agencies to deliver immediate results where the need is greatest. J/P HRO’s four primary programming areas are Medical, Camp and Relocations Management, Engineering and Construction and Community Development and activities include but are not limited to providing emergency medical and primary care services, removing rubble and debris while building back better, offering educational and enrichment programming to the community and developing housing and education facilities. More information can be found at jphro.org. You can follow J/P HRO on Twitter, add J/P HRO to your Google+ circles, and find J/P HRO on Facebook.