Celebrities, politicians join Haiti relief efforts

9/14/2008 4:45:01 PM
By Jacqueline Charles

McClatchy Newspapers

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- As Haiti Prime Minister Michele Pierre-Louis toured storm-ravaged Gonaives on Saturday, the country got some heavy lifting from celebrity friends and U.S. politicians.U.S. actor Matt Damon, center, arrives to a food distribution point in Gonaives, Haiti, on Sunday. Damon and Haitian-born singer Wyclef Jean arrived Saturday in Haiti as part of Jean's foundation's Yele Haiti aid activities, after four tropical storms hit the country within one month, leaving 800,000 Haitians in need of aid. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

Haiti-born musician Wyclef Jean and Hollywood actor Matt Damon came to see the devastation from three recent storms and called on the international community to respond to the United Nations' appeal for $108 million in emergency aid. Damon said that as a native of Boston and resident of Miami, both with huge Haitian communities, he felt the need to become involved in the initiative to help the country.

US actor Matt Damon, center, stands by Haitian-born singer Wyclef Jean who speaks into a microphone as they visit flood victims in Gonaives, Haiti, on Sunday. Damon arrived with Jean to help Jean's Yele Haiti Foundation distribute aid after four tropical storms hit the country within one month.

"It's impossible to be an American and not have an influence from this country," he said. "Hopefully ... we can make enough noise so people will pay attention."

At the same time, Reps. Kendrick Meek, D-Fla., Yvette Clarke, D-N.Y., and Donna Edwards, D-Md., toured the devastation along with U.S. Ambassador Janet Sanderson.

Meek's group is studying how best to help Haiti, which is facing a food crisis even worse than the one that led to April's deadly food riots. Half of the year's plantain crop has been wiped out by the storm, and a huge part of the rice crop is gone.

The country is looking at a $180 million loss just in agriculture.

Jean is Haiti's goodwill ambassador and founder of Yele Haiti, a nongovernment group that promotes aid to the country. On Saturday, Jean and Damon planned to go to a Cabaret neighborhood and take part in emergency food preparation for 600 people sheltered in a school.

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