Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Hip-Hop Star Brings Help - and Hope - to Haiti

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Hip-Hop Star Brings Help - and Hope - to Haiti

Article excerpt

When residents in the slums of Haiti's capital want to express rage or joy, they often throw a street party. Musical bands march through town, gathering crowds that almost overflow into the trash- filled canals that line the streets.

That was the scene when Grammy Award-winning Haitian-American hip- hop star Wyclef Jean - one of the founders of the hit group The Fugees - showed up in the Cite Soleil slum earlier this month.

One man standing on a truck yelling "Vive Wyclef!" said he thinks Mr. Jean will help him get a job. Others said they love Jean for the work he's doing for the Haitian people.

Jean's Yele Haiti organization - launched last year to find and fund groups working in education, healthcare, and the environment - is already making a difference in the neediest communities. And it is an increasingly visible - and audible - force for change across the country.

Jean's early success here, observers say, lies in his star power and reluctance to get involved in politics. This uniquely positions him to be a unifier in a stratified country, bringing together rich and poor, black and mulatto, and those in opposing political camps.

His willingness to appear with both rebel leaders who helped drive former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide from power and pro- Aristide gangsters has irked some here, but even critics who question the long-term impact of Jean's humanitarian efforts don't deny the sense of hope he is bringing to the hemisphere's poorest people.

"Wyclef is one of the few people who is really able to bridge a divide in Haiti, reaching out to gang leaders, business leaders, donors ... this is very exciting," says Caroline Anstey, the World Bank's country director for Haiti and 15 other Caribbean countries. Ms. Anstey says Jean has enabled development projects to continue in dangerous areas in part by providing hope to the residents. "His focus on music and sports and young people is a very, very hopeful approach because it's really focusing on the next generation and bringing hope to people who up to now have had very little hope."

A 'movement,' not a charity

Jean describes his motivation for starting Yele Haiti in broad terms. "I think what happens is you're born and you die, but there's this little space in the middle and from that little space emerge some of the greatest people with the greatest responsibilities. How did I get to that space? I don't know. My dad was a minister so he was always talking to us about giving.... I came to my country to help."

Today, Jean sees Yele as an expanding movement. "I always say that Yele Haiti is not a charity. It's a movement. We don't really need your charity, we need your movement. So physically do something."

Yele partnered recently with the Haitian cellphone company ComCEL to provide scholarships and other support for youths attending L'Athletique d'Haiti, a sports and tutoring program, and to rebuild schools and provide scholarships for children in Gonaives, a town devastated by floods in 2004. …

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