When a 7.0 earthquake struck Haiti in early 2010, it seemed like the entire world turned its eyes to the poverty-stricken Caribbean nation – and Sean Penn was no exception. In the wake of the disaster, which virtually leveled the tiny country, Penn and fellow philanthropist Diana Jenkins sprung into action and formed the Jenkins/Penn Haitian Relief Organization (J/P HRO).
Unlike some other celebrity-based charity organizations, the J/P HRO and its namesakes were not only at ground zero immediately following the disaster but, nearly three years later, are still actively involved. Sean Penn’s volunteerism through the J/P HRO is, in fact, so lauded that he was recently named ambassador at large for Haiti.
Operating out of the capital city of Port au Prince, which was also the earthquake’s epicenter, the relief efforts of the J/P HRO volunteers were initially pretty slow, says the actor. “Haiti was a country that not only suffered from enormous poverty,” said Penn, “but also the earthquake happened at a moment where there was going to be a shift in power.” Although volunteers were initially able to set up medical camps, distribute food and potable water, and assist in clean-up efforts, it hasn’t been until very recently that reconstruction efforts really began to take shape.
Compounding the preexisting problems, Penn believes that millions of dollars in misused donations are also to blame for Haiti’s slowed recovery. “In many the ways,” Penn said, “[the money] didn’t [get to the right places] for a very long time… Now the money is starting to come in and projects are really starting to happen.”
And projects are what lies at the heart of the J/P HRO. By working with government and non-governmental agencies, the J/P HRO brings sustainable programs to the Haitian people, thus delivering immediate results where it is most needed. Some of the organization’s greatest efforts include providing emergency medical and primary care services, delivering medical supplies and medicine, facilitating rubble removal, managing camps for displaced persons, distributing food and water, improving communication systems, and redeveloping housing and education facilities.
Volunteers play a huge part in the efforts of the J/P HRO – particularly those who have medical training. When a cholera outbreak plagued the country in late 2010, J/P HRO medical volunteers teamed up with Pan American Health and World Health organizations to help contain the disease.