Letter to the Editor sent by HUGH LOCKE on Monday in response to article in last Friday’s New York Times


Deborah Sontag’s article about Yele Haiti (“In Haiti, Little Can Be Found of a Hip-Hop Artist’s Charity” – Oct. 12) is riddled with errors and misrepresentation. Three examples serve to illustrate.

Yéle was asked by the Jean et Marie orphanage for help because the children were malnourished and living in absolute squalor. The organization  did not force a renovation on them, as the article suggests, but did build a state-of-the art facility and provided a monthly supplement for food and medical services for the children.

Yéle rented a seven-acre property as its headquarters for $15,000 a month, but it was by no means “lavish” as the article suggests. The organization hosted up to 30 volunteers at a time in sleeping bags and air mattresses at this location, and from there also delivered close to 4.2 million gallons of filtered water to tent camps.

In 2010, Yéle spent close to $9.2 million, of which 15% was for overhead and fundraising. The relevant figures are set out on page 10 of the publicly available 990 tax return filed with the IRS. This percentage is well within the norm for a charity and a far cry from the article’s claim that only half the expenditures were for charitable program activities.

To date, an estimated 10,000 charities have raised more than $3 billion in public donations to help Haiti recover from the 2010 earthquake. Yéle faced challenges like many other groups on the ground, and made mistakes in the process, but the significant contribution of the organization is real.  An article like this that is based on misrepresentation and incomplete information negates that good work.  A respected newspaper like The Times should know better.


Former President of Yéle Haiti

Westchester, N.Y., Oct. 15, 2012

The piece is a freestyle mix of fact and fiction, fueled by a fascination with Yele’s Haiti’s co-founder, hip hop artist Wyclef Jean. Each fact is matched with the most outrageous distortion imaginable. For example, the online version of the story leads with a photo of a plaza in the Port-au-Prince slum of Cité Soleil. Today this plaza, known as Place Fierte Soleil, is just that—an outdoor recreational area for local residents. But for close to two years following the 2010 earthquake, it was also the site of a tent camp that was home to around 10,000 displaced people. Yéle Haiti supported this camp by installing hundreds of tents; providing food, water and clothing on a regular basis; building two 4,000-liter underground, cement-lined septic tanks; installing showers, toilets and outdoor sinks for hand-washing; employing residents in a street cleaning program; providing mobile generators; and, renovating a permanent pavilion on the site that was being used as a combination temporary school and community center. The tent camp no longer exists because, along with thousands of other such camps, it has been dismantled. The story correctly asserts that Yéle spent $230,000 at this plaza site, but it errs in claiming that the organization renovated it with no lasting results. It mistakenly portrays Yéle as wasting money on the equivalent of lawn ornaments, while in fact the real story is that the organization provided vital support to a tent camp.

This freestyle approach to covering Wyclef Jean and Yéle Haiti is a popular one, no doubt fueled by the attention to a celebrity. But it overlooks the good the organization has done and does no service to the people of Haiti as they struggle to recover.

Did Yéle Haiti ever make mistakes? Yes, but those mistakes were made because we concentrated all of our efforts on people rather than process. It is important to acknowledge those mistakes and repair them, which the organization has done. These errors have been corrected and were thoroughly investigated by outside parties. The organization has been cleared of anything illegal. In addition, the organization changed its processes, filed several missed IRS returns and repaired some of its earlier mistakes in transparency. At this time, it is in the process of dealing with some additional issues, but I am confident these investigations will result in a similar outcome.

I stepped down as president of the organization in February of 2011, knowing that Yéle Haiti had become too bogged down with issues that detracted from the cause. I do not regret my time with that organization. I served with a dedicated team of people and I know we made a real difference in the lives of tens of thousands of people, both before and after the earthquake.

I expect this overwhelmingly negative coverage about Yéle to continue to come, in successive waves, for some time. Despite that, I remain committed to working in Haiti, albeit in a new capacity. In continuing my efforts there, I am heartened by the moral support from so many of you who share a vision of the potential that waits to be unleashed within the people of Haiti.


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Following is my response to a selection of the allegations in the New York Times article.

NYT CLAIM: Yéle spent $230,000 renovating a plaza in the Cité Soleil slum with no lasting results.

THE TRUTH: Yéle supported a tent camp with 10,000 residents on a plaza in Cité Soleil (photos 1 & 2).

Yéle spent the money to support a tent camp with more than 10,000 residents that was located on the plaza in question. Not quite the same as Ms. Sontag’s implication that this was a parks and recreation initiative which, if true, would have been a ludicrous project… read more.

NYT CLAIM: Yéle spent half its money in 2010 on travel, salaries and office expenses.

THE TRUTH: Yéle spent 15% in 2010 on overhead and 85% on programs.

The respected accounting firm of RSM McGladrey oversaw all spending by Yéle in 2010. Based on their review and the 2010 IRS 990 tax file submitted to the IRS, Yéle spent 85% of its 2010 expenditures on distributions of emergency needs and supplies—water, food, shelter… read more.

NYT CLAIM: Yéle wasted $600,000 on a lavish walled country estatefor its headquarters.

THE TRUTH: Yéle rented a 7-acre walled property for $15,000 a month as its headquarters (photos 3 & 4).

Following the earthquake, Yéle rented a property in the vicinity of Port-au-Prince that had once been a “walled country estate.” By the time we rented it, it did have a wall and it was in the country, but it had long ago ceased to warrant the terms “lavish” or “estate.” For the … read more.

NYT CLAIM: Yéle forced disabled children to eat gruel by reneging on promised food baskets.

THE TRUTH: Yéle contracted a farmers’ cooperative to provide fresh vegetables on a weekly basis to supplement the diet of up to 2,000 orphans a week (photos 5 & 6)

Yele contracted a 6,000 member farmers’ cooperative, known as Afe Neg Combite and led by a charismatic Catholic priest, Pere Cico, to grow vegetables that supplemented the diet of children in orphanages. Every Saturday we delivered baskets with 150 to 200 pounds… read more.

NYT CLAIM: Yéle forced unwanted renovations on an orphanage and then abandoned the children.

THE TRUTH: Yéle rebuilt an orphanage that was in squalor, provided a supplement to help them purchase food, but we were never their sole sponsor (photos 7 & 8).

Yéle was asked by the Jean et Marie orphanage for help because the children were malnourished and living in absolute squalor. Their toilet was an open hole in the ground, their kitchen a squalid lean-to, the school a collection of broken benches in a dirt courtyard. We… read more.

NYT CLAIM: Yéle paid for a private jet to bring Matt Damon to Haiti.

THE TRUTH: Matt Damon paid his own way to Haiti and paid for his own hotel and food.

When Matt Damon came to Haiti as a guest of Yéle in October, 2008, he did not ask Yéle to pay for his plane fare. He also paid for his own hotel and meals, refusing to let Yéle even pay for breakfast on his day of departure. His trip to Haiti cost Yéle nothing… read more.

NYT CLAIM: Yéle squandered millions on a job creation program.

THE TRUTH: Yéle employed up to 2,000 people at a time cleaning streets and canals (9 & 10).

Yéle’s biggest program was a job corps that Ms. Sontag claims was not properly run because only half the money went to the laborers. Yéle hired up to 2,000 people at a time from the tent camps to clean streets and canals, paying them $7 a day, well above the national… read more.

NYT CLAIM: Yéle wasted $375,000 on landscaping.

THE TRUTH: Yéle made improvements to its headquarters that included a warehouse for emergency supplies and had nothing to do with “landscaping.”

In accounting terms, improvements to a facility are categorized as “landscaping.” In Yéle’s case, these expenses related to the property we were using as our headquarters. Work on that property included building the concrete pad used to hold the 40-foot containers… read more.

NYT CLAIM: Yéle spent $470,440 on its own food and beverages.

THE TRUTH: Yéle paid for catering for volunteers and workers, along with meetings and events related to the core mission of the organization.

For accounting purposes, any time an organization purchases food or beverages for any reason, it must be listed as such. The backup documentation provides the justification for each item to show how the meeting or event or activity is helping to support the organization’s… read more.

NYT CLAIM: Yéle paid Wyclef Jean’s brother-in-law for two building projects that did not exist.

THE TRUTH: Yéle hired P & A Construction for two projects that were built (11 & 12).

Yéle hired P & A Construction for a number of projects in Haiti. This construction company is owned by Warnel Pierre, who is also Wyclef Jean’s brother-in-law. Ms. Sontag alleges that two of the projects that P & A were hired to do did not exist: a medical center and the… read more.

NYT CLAIM: Yéle avoided oversight by operating outside the rules for relief operations.

THE TRUTH: Yéle did not take part in NGO coordinating meetings when they not include sufficient representation from Haitian NGOs or the government of Haiti

Following the earthquake there were as many as 10,000 NGOs on the ground in Haiti. They began to meet in what were called “cluster” groups based on focus areas such as sanitation, food, water, housing, and so on. Haitian NGOs and Haitian government agency… read more.

NYT CLAIM: Yéle’s support for tent camps was a waste of money.

THE TRUTH: Yéle supported tent camps because it was the right response at the time to a humanitarian catastrophe (13 & 14).

Yéle targeted tent camps that were well organized but were not getting enough supplies from other NGOs or agencies. What we did was not a matter of “dump and run”… read more.

NYT CLAIM: Yéle cheated a woman who prepared hot meals for tent camps.

THE TRUTH: Yéle paid for and received 98,000 hot meals, all with backup documentation (15 & 16).

Yéle paid a total of $980,000 over several months for 98,000 hot meals (not 810,000 as claimed in the article) that were prepared and delivered to various tent camps in the Port-au-Prince area. The money was paid to businessman Amsterly Pierre, who in turn… read more.

Final Thoughts

Two glaring omissions in my responses to Ms. Sontag’s article are the investigation by the New York State Attorney General and a related, but incomplete, forensic audit. I have a lot to say about both, but am restricted from commenting because both are ongoing.

Wyclef Jean resigned from Yéle when he entered politics in August, 2010. I resigned as President of the organization in February, 2011. While I was sad to leave, I left behind a 500-page manual for running the organization and $5.5 million in the bank. The Board of Directors all resigned shortly after my departure in order to give the remaining CEO a free hand to revitalize and expand the organization. Despite his valiant efforts, things did not go well and by the end of 2011 there was no money left, no programs running, no office in Haiti, and a sole remaining employee—down from a total payroll of more than 2000 employees a year before (including the Yéle Corps program).

It is very unfortunate that Yéle closed down this past summer with hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid bills in both the US and Haiti, but that is not sufficient grounds to discount the body of outstanding work the Yéle team did for many years, both before and after the earthquake, in Haiti.

My book, The Haiti Experiment, was published last month and goes into detail about Yéle’s activities from 2005 to 2010. I have excerpted sections of the book in this document, and am willing to make available the relevant chapters in full (and without charge) to any journalist who requests them through my website www.TheHaitiExperiment.com.

Place Fierte Soleil tent camp
1.) Yéle provided extensive support for the Place Fierte Soleil tent camp, including tents (shown here with tents from various NGO sources)
Digging septic tank.
2.) P & A Construction installing a septic tank at the Place Fierte Soleil tent camp.
Supplies at Yele headquarters.
3.) Yéle rented a property for its headquarters and installed a warehouse facility using 40-foot containers. Workers are shown unloading supplies into the warehouse.
Bulk water tanks
4.) Yéle contracted a water treatment facility on its headquarters property to deliver 4.2 million gallons of water to tent camps over the course of 2010. Some of the 14 tanker trucks leaving the property en route to tent camps.
Vegetables grown by farmers
5.) Yéle contracted a farmers’ cooperative to grow vegetables that were delivered in 150 to 200 pound baskets each week to supplement the diet of children in orphanages.
Vegetable delivery to orphanage
6.) Baskets of vegetables were delivered each week to up to 35 orphanages with a combined population of around 2,000 children.
Orphanage before renovation
7.) Yéle found the children in the Jean et Marie orphanage were malnourished and living in squalor in April of 2010.
Orphanage after renovation
8.) The Jean et Marie orphanage was completely rebuilt by Yéle, and the organization also provided support for food and a medical service for the children.
Yele Corp workers on street.
9.) The Yéle Corps program employed up to 2,000 tent camp residents at a time to clean streets.
Vocational training.
10.) Included in the Yéle Corps program was a vocational training component.
Medical center
11.) Yéle contracted P & A Construction to build a medical center, although it was decommissioned before it could become operational.
Construction at tent camp
12.) P & A Construction made substantial improvements to the Place Fierte Soleil tent camp in Cité Soleil. Shown here is the P & A crew laying gravel base prior to installation of tents.
Distribution in tent camp.
13.) Yéle provided a wide range of tents, food, clothing and other emergency supplies for tent camps throughout Port-au-Prince.
Bulk water distribution
14.) Over the course of 2010, Yéle delivered up to 34,000 gallons a day of filtered water to tent camps.
Hot meal distribution
15.) Yéle distributed 98,000 hot meals to people in tent camps. Wyclef Jean (left, dark blue shirt) handing out Styrofoam containers with meals.
Hot meal lineup
16.) Residents from the Place Fierte Soleil tent camp in Cité Soleil lined up to receive their hot meals from Yéle.
My book “The Haiti Experiment” includes chapters on the work of Yéle before and after the earthquake.

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