Sean Penn at IsraAid  Conference
Sean Penn at IsraAid Conference Courtesy: IsraAid

During his first-ever visit to Israel on Monday, two-time Academy Award winning actor Sean Penn took part in the IsraAID conference entitled: “Can Haiti Grow?”. The conference took place in Tel Aviv and was presented by IsraAID in conjunction with the Pratt Foundation. Both philanthropic foundations donate to relief work in Haiti as well as other developing countries.

Penn attended in order to speak about the humanitarian relief work that his own Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) does in the impoverished nation.

Penn, whose father is Jewish, is the founder of the J/P Haitian Relief Organization (JP/HRO). The organization was launched as a response to the mega-earthquake that shook Haiti in January of 2010. The earthquake resulted in between 230,000 to 316,000 fatalities.

Arutz Sheva spoke to Navonel Glick, Deputy Director and COO of IsraAid about the conference and about the organization’s work in Haiti.

“This is a very crucial time for Haiti, and we need to galvanize support in an effort to bring about positive change in the country.”

“So we decided to make a conference to rejuvinate donor support for Haiti. We invited Sean, as he is very passionate about Haiti and he is a big name,” Glick relayed.

Glick himself has plenty of hands-on experience working in aid with the developing world, having spent four years in Nepal working with Israeli NGO Tevel b’Tzedek.

“Haiti is still not in good shape,” Glick explained. “The country is still struggling to rehabilitate, and there are still thousands of people who are still displaced from the earthquake. There is still a cholera epidemic, there are elections which the population is very nervous about, and the price of food is inflating at a very quick rate.”  

“There is a lot of donor fatigue. Around the world there are crises of the highest level occurring in proportions never before experienced for such an elongated time.” Just to name a few, Glick highlighted the crises in Iraq, Syria, Nigeria, Central African Republic, Burma. These crises have all been designated as level three by the UN which is the ranking reserved for crises of the most serious kind.

IsraAid has stayed in Haiti while other organizations have packed up and left last year or the year before.

“We are trying to work with and strengthen the capacity of local organizations within the community, especially to help combat violence. To that effect we have three organizations in the country that work with survivors, and we are working in 14 schools to raise social awareness, minimize the long-term devastating effects of being exposed to such a traumatic event. We are also working hard to combat violence,

“We send professionals from Israel, we have a combined professional team of both Israelis and Haitian professionals and we try to guide and mentor the local professionals.”

IsraAid’s work method is based upon sustainability.  

“We don’t want to build something on our capacity.  Our presence in these schools only comes as part of an ‘on the job training’ provided to Haitian professionals. Our participation in the schools Our trainings re tailor made, we emphasize the local context, as well as the international context. We train the Haitian professionals to do the jobs that need to be done, in order to minimize our footprint, so that the program has local ownership and is sustainable once we phase out.”

During the conference Penn was quoted as saying; “Our mission was to spend a few weeks in Haiti as a 24/7 delivery service for drugs for the hospitals that needed them,”

The JP/HRO, together with many other organizations such as Glick's former NGO Tevel B’Tzedek, quickly became key providers of long-term relief to victims in the area.

During its duration of relief work in Haiti, Penn’s NGO collaborated with IsraAID to help facilitate the implementation of a child education centre in a Port-au-Prince refugee camp.

Penn lauded IsraAID for its “inspiration” and relief efforts. “They became mentors in moving forward,” Penn said. “Their logistics was more sound, and their sincerity of purpose was more complete. Everything that JP/HRO has accomplished would not have existed without the inspiration and support that they provided.”

Former Israeli Ambassador to the United States and current MK Michael Oren (Kulanu) also spoke at the event. “Organizations like IsraAID combine the spirit of the Jewish people and service to humanity – it is the ultimate symbiosis between the two. IsraAID was one of the first to bring emergency medical relief … and IsraAID is still there, that’s how they work around the world". Dr. Oren also applauded Mr. Penn for his work, saying that "you [Mr. Penn] didn’t leave, you made a commitment to the people of Haiti. As a member of the Jewish people, I say to you, toda raba. Thank you.”

Penn, encouraged “everyone in the room” to visit Haiti. “It’s a special place and it’s such a doable enterprise,” he said. “This is not rocket science. It’s an hour and a half from Miami Beach…it is sitting there full of talent and energy. We started, IsraAID started, I’d like you all to start.”

Glick spoke highly of Penn and his willingness to come and take part in the conference. “It’s an honour to work in Haiti and to work together with Sean and to have been able to host him In Israel. We hope that this will help to galvanize people, as well as help them to understand that there is something powerful here that they can contribute to.”