Sean Penn says Haiti relief dollars finally resulting in real reconstruction

Sean Penn (R) helps to carry the belongings of a earthquake victims during a relocation exercise in Port-au-Prince April 10, 2010. (Reuters)

By Hollie McKay

Published January 18, 2012


The Hollywood charity Cinema for Peace honored — and raised money for — the Sean Penn-founded J/P Haitian Relief Organization (J/P HRO) on Saturday. George Clooney, Leonardo DiCaprio, Orlando Bloom, Julia Roberts, Salma Hayek and Demi Moore were just some of the A-listers on hand for swanky soiree to celebrate Penn, who was also named Ambassador at Large to Haiti by Foreign Minister Lamothe.

Two years after the country’s devastating earthquake, Penn is still on the ground, and he says he’s determined to keep Haitians in the forefront of our minds.

“Haiti was a country that not only suffered from enormous poverty, and then had this devastating earthquake, but also the earthquake happened at a moment where there was going to be a shift in power. There was an election coming up,” Penn told FOX411’s Pop Tarts column. “It made it very difficult for the former president to move forward with projects, to have trust in international donors that those projects would continue in an unknown next administration.”

Penn said that after an agonizingly slow start, relief and building efforts are finally moving forward.

“Now the targets are in sight about how to really begin this reconstruction. You have a very decisive leadership and a very decisive people who put that leadership in place,” he said. “Also there were, in many ways, too many organizations working in Haiti as a reaction on the basis of the emergency. One of the upsides of organizations thinning is that we know who the players are that we can depend on.”

Penn said he doesn’t believe the many millions of dollars donated by Americans following the disaster went to where it was needed.

“In many the ways, (the money) didn’t (get to the right places) for a very long time. The focus on Haiti now is really to guide a lot of that money, but there are a lot of reasons why (it wasn’t used appropriately),” he said. “It is an important, but much longer conversation, of what those criticisms are. Now the money is starting to come in and projects are really starting to happen. We need a stimulus to that. That is what we are looking for tonight.”

The one-night event raised $5 million dollars for Penn’s Haitian relief organization.

Also stepping out was supermodel Petra Nemcova, who was badly injured during the 2004 tsunami in Thailand, which claimed the life of her fiancé, photographer Simon Atlee.

“When a natural disaster happens, there is an outpouring of support, but a few months later the support goes away and a gap is created between the first responders leave. Nights like these are a reminder of what has been done, but what is needed,” she stressed. “It’s also important to comment on the positives as well as the negative, a lot of great things have happened – new schools built, great projects, new companies and factories. There has been lots of growth, and there isn’t enough reported about that. It’s not just about throwing money at Haiti; we need to find ways to empower Haitians to stand on their own legs again.”

Mel Gibson even made a rare appearance at the event at the request of his pal Penn.

“Sean asked me to come and I think it’s a really worthy cause, and just because you’re not seeing it in the newspapers doesn’t mean it’s not happening,” he told us. “Still there’s a lot of suffering, a lot of work to be done. He’s been chipping away quietly, so I’m just here to applaud his efforts to make more public awareness about it. It’s something that may have been slightly forgotten.”

Newly divorced reality star Kim Kardashian also showed up, on the heels of her expedition last month to the earthquake-torn, impoverished nation under the guidance of actress/activist Maria Bello. Media reports at the time questioned the motives behind Kardashian’s charity-driven adventure, suggesting it was a publicity stunt or a shopping trip, prompting the mogul to fire back on her website thusly: “While my experience was completely life-changing … a very emotional and surprisingly positive journey that I will never forget, some media outlets have tried to tarnish the motive behind my visit and have written completely ridiculous and untrue things,” she wrote. “The truth is that I was at the Haitian Artisan Fair, where the amazing men and women who make their jewelry and crafts sell them to visitors to make a living, and I bought some beautiful jewelry!”


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