Cries of adulation — and hunger — followed Haitian-born singer Wyclef Jean and actor Matt Damon as they toured flood-ravaged Gonaives on Sunday to call attention to widespread suffering in the marooned city.
Tropical Storm Hanna and Hurricane Ike submerged the Haitian city and cut off roadways. Where waters have receded, streets remain a stinking mud bath and homes are carpeted with muck and encrusted pots, pans and laundry.
"I'm speechless, I can't believe it," said Damon, looking down from a U.N. helicopter at people living on the rooftops of flooded homes.
The four-hour visit passed in a blur of stenches, colors and noise. A man on a bicycle tried to keep up with Damon and Jean's truck, shouting, "I love you, Wyclef." Jean raised his hand, but couldn't smile back.
Damon and Jean waded through knee-deep floodwaters and climbed a stage outside the Gonaives cathedral, where 500 people have taken refuge in the choir gallery.
The pair did not go into the cathedral, but Jean sang for a few minutes to a crowd outside. When he later tried to leave, people swept him into the streets. Admirers, some asking for money, clung to U.N. trucks as they drove away.
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.
"This country desperately needs help now," Damon said last night, after meeting the country's prime minister, Michèle Pierre-Louis.
"She said to us: the people of Haiti deserved to be helped. But not just charity. We want a hand up, and not a hand out," he said.
"People haven't eaten for days; communities are completely flooded. Bridges are washed out. There are reports of bodies floating in the rivers and some communities haven't even been reached yet," said McKenna. "It's heartbreaking for there to be these places that have been deeply effected, but have no capacity to deal with their problems."
Joey Adler, founder of OneXOne, which raises money for groups helping children in need worldwide, described the situation in a cellphone interview from Gonaives, a city north of the capital Port-au-Prince.
"It's hopeless," she said from the back of a truck driving through the city's flooded streets. "There's more hope in Rwanda than here. This is absolutely devastating."
"As an NGO here, all you're doing is putting bandages on cancer but we still have to save lives today," she said. "This is devastation on top of a crisis."
Now an executive with TD Bank, McKenna flew to Haiti on Saturday in his role as chairman of OneXOne, a children's relief organization based in Canada. He was accompanied on the trip by actor Matt Damon, Haitian-American rapper Wyclef Jean and a film crew from the CBS news program 60 Minutes.
Even in impoverished African villages, Frank McKenna has never witnessed heartbreak like that in Haiti.
"I have been in some awfully poor places, but I have never seen anything as poor or as devastating,'' the former New Brunswick premier said Sunday from hurricane-ravaged Port-au-Prince. "People are walking through the streets in water hip deep and clinging to roofs. Even in the best of circumstances, Haiti is the most dysfunctional and poorest place in the Western Hemisphere. But there is total devastation now."
Canada's former ambassador to the United States, McKenna is impressed by the earnestness shown by Damon and Jean. The Academy Award-winning actor is an ambassador to OneXOne, while the Grammy-winning Jean was born in Haiti and runs an aid group called Yele Haiti as part of his own foundation. OneXOne and Yele Haiti combine their efforts.
"These two guys are extraordinary,'' McKenna said. "Jean is their hope and their salvation. People swarm him, reach out to try to touch him. It is very moving."
[McKenna on Wyclef Jean]
"The crowds swarm him. He is like the messiah here to them. It's very moving to watch," said McKenna. "These two guys – Matt and Wyclef – they're extraordinary. Their interest and their giving of themselves, it's humbling to watch."
"Right now, all of us just want to go home and give our kids a hug,'' he said on Sunday evening. "This is very, very humbling."
"With the focus being on Texas, we don't want people to forget about Haiti," said Frank McKenna, the current chair of OneXOne and Canada's former ambassador to the United States. "They don't have the infrastructure and they don't have the resources to deal with it. They're just overwhelmed."
Joel McHale on Matt
McHale: If there’s anybody in the world that gets the issues it will be him. He is one of the smartest guys I’ve ever met. And terribly compassionate.
Adler: We’re very lucky to have him because with Matt it’s about the cause 100%. He’s a pure, pure, pure philanthropist.
Marc Joubert on Matt
Joubert: Getting it means that he’s not here because it looks good on his resume. He’s here because he wants to make a difference. He’s willing to go to Africa or to third world countries and get his hands dirty and play a part in the big initiatives over there.
The idea that climate change is man-made has reached everywhere in the world but three places: the Oval Office, Alaska and the Wall Street Journal editorial board. Then along come Bono, Matt Damon and Angelina Jolie, who are not scientists, but they are very clever people. And when they immerse themselves in these areas of proven results and practices – like Bono becoming an expert on what it means to treat people with AIDS or Matt bringing water to poor villages – they are not investing the science or testing the technology, but with a lot of effort, heart and talent they are putting it all out to the public in a way that the public will not get from the reports that I would read.