October 20th, 2008
09:33 AM ET

My Haiti underwater

Haitian-born singer Wyclef Jean and actor Matt Damon distribute food to flood victims after four tropical storms hit the area in Gonaives, Haiti, Sunday, Sept. 14.
Haitian-born singer Wyclef Jean and actor Matt Damon distribute food to flood victims after four tropical storms hit the area in Gonaives, Haiti, Sunday, Sept. 14.

Edittor's Note: Yéle Haiti is a movement led by Wyclef Jean that is helping to bring hope back to Haiti. Projects are designed to make a difference in the fields of education, health, environment and community development. The power and reach of music, sports and the media is used to increase the impact of these project

Wyclef Jean
Yéle Haiti Foundation

I was born in a village called LaSerre. LaSerre is a village in a region called Croix-des-Bouquets, just a few miles east of Port-au-Prince. LaSerre might as well be 100 miles away from Haiti’s largest city. It is a very small rural village that still does not have a paved road.

I have returned to that village many times over the past few years. I have a lot of dreams of what we can do to make sure that other children like me can get the opportunities that I did. I would have had them, had my father not had vision. Not gone against the odds, not taken risks, and not believed.

In August of this year, four hurricanes hit the island of Haiti in less than two weeks time. I was traveling on tour when this occurred, similar to when Hurricane Jeanne hit Haiti in 2004. Then I was in Paris touring with the Fugees and what was happening in my homeland just took me completely out of myself. It was very difficult to continue on.

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/01/12/art.vert.haitimap.jpg width=292 height=320]

Similarly, this time I was touring in Canada myself, and returned to New York. I gathered the Executive Committee of my foundation, YÉLE HAITI, and made a decision that we must take action in accessing the accurate status of the people in the outlining areas of the country. The reports were horrifying.

I returned to Toronto for an annual Gala for a partner of YÉLE’s, ONE X ONE. At the Gala, I shared the devastation of Haiti with my friend and remarkable human being, Matt Damon. I was concerned that Hurricane Ike which was approaching Texas, along with all the Presidential election coverage including the announcement of the Republican Vice Presidential candidate would take all the media attention away from the four hurricanes that had really devastated not only Haiti, but many other Caribbean islands, such as Cuba. Thousands of people had lost their homes, children, family members, and were left without food and water.

Imagine Katrina’s impact on New Orleans and multiply it by 1000.

What pains me most, and much like most Americans were angered by the response to Katrina, is that these are poor people without means. Matt immediately volunteered to come with me so we could gain global media attention. Five days later, we were in Haiti.

SEPTEMBER 15, 2008:

5:00am – I awakened with a lot of anxiousness. Driving to the airport in New Jersey, I had a lot running through my mind.

7:00am – Board a plane in New Jersey with my cousin Jerry and One X One team, Frank McKenna, and Joey Adler.

10:00am – Land in Miami to pick up Matt Damon.

12:30pm – As I landed in Port-au-Prince, it felt very different from the countless times I had come before. In fact, I had just been there 8 weeks prior for a visit with my Yéle team on the ground. I knew that what I would see would be devastating even to me.

2:00pm – We immediately got into vehicles and drove to a town called Cabaret. Cabaret is a town that was flooded by a river that overflowed. More than 40 mothers lost their children in the flood. Swept away in the middle of the night as the waters gushed through their homes. Grandparents loosing grandchildren. Farmers lost their only harvest for the year. There is no water, no food, no seed, and no fertilizer. Nothing left.
My country was once the richest in the Western Hemisphere. All of these thoughts run through my mind as I sit next to Matt. Matt is excited that he is finally seeing Haiti after all we have spoken about it over time. Deep in my heart I wished I had gotten a chance to bring him here under different circumstances.

Upon our arrival in Cabaret, we stopped to visit many of the people. A mother described how her child was literally pulled out of her hands by the water. I thought of my daughter, and what if that had happed to me, and got swept from my hands in a storm. I could not so much as even wrap my mind around how that would impact me. She asked me to promise that when I get back to America that I will tell everyone what I saw. She asked me to promise to help and send as much help as possible for them. She asked me to promise to come back.

We had arrived with our team from YÉLE HAITI and our partners, the World Food Programme, Pan American Development Foundation with assistance from the United Nations Development Fund and our friends from ONE X ONE.

We had planned a food distribution for that day in the town. But, for a moment I froze before speaking to this woman that had just shared her darkest life moment. I then said to her, “not only will we be back, but we will help you get your house back, we can not bring back your child, but I will make sure she will get the proper funeral as her soul must rest in peace.”

Then I met a couple that was over 100 years old. The man was 106 to be exact. I leaned over to speak to the couple and said, “How are you holding up?” They told me that they had lost everything, but that the highest power will provide a way for them. WOW! Faith I said to myself. Then I asked the man who had no eyesight, but could hear very well. “What’s the secret to a long life?” He responded, “Whatever your wife says, she is always right!” A moment of complete disaster, but yet they find a way to laugh. What a strong group of people!

It then hit me that these people have been in this water for days with nothing on and no food. There is no clinic or hospital to care for them. It had been washed away too. We need to act now I kept saying to myself, but how can I get people outside of Haiti, with no attachment to Haiti to care? How do I get them to pay attention to the forgotten?

8:00pm – On the way back to Port-au-Prince from Cabaret we stopped by the Prime Ministers office, Michèle Duvivier Pierre-Louis. She had just been appointed and her first weeks of working were under the most challenging environmental conditions. The country was obviously in a state of emergency and we were asked to continue the plight to get everyone in the world to help Haiti. We immediately began to reach out to the media and began a campaign at YÉLE.org where just five dollars could make a difference. That way anyone can do their part. As human beings we are put on the planet so that we can better one another; learn from one another; work with one another, and live for each other.

I suddenly felt like everything I have been doing was just not enough. We have to engage each other on a massive level. Haiti is a country that is in the back yard of so many powerful and rich countries, such as the United States. This is not some far away place! You can get there in 45 minutes from Miami, 2 hours from Texas, and 3 hours from New York!

12:00am – Went to sleep.


6:00am – Breakfast and meeting with my YÉLE HAITI team to prepare everyone for the day.

8:00am – Depart hotel. We put on our boots to visit a town in the northern region of Haiti called Gonaives. The UN had provided helicopters for us to fly to the city which was hit the most. I was anxious about what I was going to see. After Hurricane Jeanne in 2004 I had gone to aid the people in refugee camps and it was some of the worst devastation I had seen. This time, the entire city was under water.

9:30am – Depart UN

It is a 40 minute helicopter ride from Port-au-Prince and I was told the food distributions in the city were not going well at all. This frustrated me. The people in Gonaives had not eaten for 12 days. The food distributions could not feed everyone and the people were attacking the aid workers. Then it hit me. The people of this city had not eaten in two weeks and have been in the water for the same amount of time. The food distribution was being done late at night and people were on the tin roofs of houses waiting for aid and rescue.

Once again, my stomach started to hurt. My eyes began to cry as I looked out the helicopter upon our approach to the city under water. This time I thought, “this is Katrina times a million!” We got out of the helicopters and I could immediately smell dead bodies throughout the village. We drove the trucks through the city. I broke my silence by saying to Matt, “people are not supposed to live like this.” As I looked further I saw a kid without clothes on. He was walking in the water that was filled with body parts, dead cats, and remains. I cried when I looked into the child’s eyes. I saw myself.

12:00pm – Helped with food distribution.

2:00pm – Meeting with officials of Gonaives and UN commanders

6:00pm – Depart for Port-au-Prince.

7:00pm – Take Matt to the airport to return to the United States. There is nothing better a friend could have done than what he did over those two days. I am eternally grateful.

8:00pm – Meeting with YÉLE HAITI staff and World Food Programme to discuss food distribution for the next month throughout the country but particularly Gonaives strategy, as it was hit the hardest.

9:30p – Dinner.

12:00am – Bedtime.


6:00am – Breakfast.

8:00am – Meet with YÉLE HAITI staff.

10:00am – Depart for airport.

This time, I feel like this trip has changed me forever. There is so much more to life than yourself. I only hope we can get people to follow us.


Filed under: Global 360° • Haiti • T1 • TV • Weather • Wyclef Jean
soundoff (22 Responses)
  1. Jacquelyn Johnson

    My heart and my soul cries out for Haiti. I don't have much to give, but I will give what I can. May God bless you and keep you.

    October 20, 2008 at 2:37 pm |
  2. Eugenie

    I'm very proud of you wyclef. It takes a single person to make a difference. You are that person and you have inspired many to do the same.

    Very very proud of you and CNN

    October 20, 2008 at 2:36 pm |
  3. Kerwin

    Thank you Wyclef,

    I am a Haitian expatriate. It does pain me to know that my people are suffering so much. I know that I have to look into myself and stop being selfish and look up some organizations where I can donate to help my fellow Haitians in their plight.

    Kerwin from Philly

    October 20, 2008 at 2:35 pm |
  4. Kelly

    What a touching account of this tragedy in Haiti. I am heartened to see that there are at least some people out there who are doing what they can to bring attention and help to the Haitian people who so desperately need it right now. Anderson, please blog if you can on Myanmar as well– they are still in terrible straights after that massive cyclone earlier this year.

    October 20, 2008 at 2:30 pm |
  5. Ana Dawson

    I have seen such devastation with my own eyes and I KNOW what it is like and what it feels like. I'm a product of my mother's vision in that you must have strong faith and belief that your life will change for the better, no matter what circumstance your life is in at the present moment.

    I will do what I can to help since this hits so close to home for me and I know the pain and suffering and the emotions that come with it. Sometimes feeling helplessness can become a huge burden on people and we have to come in and help and show that there will be better tomorrows.

    Thanks for your report!

    Ana D.

    October 20, 2008 at 2:28 pm |
  6. joe yarborough

    Vacationing in the Dominican Republic which shares a border with Haiti, my wife and I could not help but notice the poverty at all levels on this island.We did not venture onto the Haita side of the island as this was too dangerous,and had been advised not to by yhe locals.I can only say a prayer for these people,and ask God to show them mercy in the face of despair.A caring and compassionate goverment would not hurt their chances of bettering their own lives as well as the lives of many generations to come.This would be a good start point!

    October 20, 2008 at 2:24 pm |
  7. Bello


    Thank you for caring for those Haitians who have been forgotten and brought the attention to the world community. I was born in Haiti and lived there till I was 19. Many of us aboard are anxious to join forces to help Haiti but through a reputable organization. Please let us know where we can donate or help us to organize.

    Take Care


    October 20, 2008 at 2:23 pm |
  8. Joel Orgella

    I feel proud of your love for your Country and my Countr ! I see and feel the misery every time I get a chance to travel to haiti. So many famous haitians that are doing well around the world should follow your example and join to help the less fortunate in Haiti through non profit and non governmental actions.
    May God Bless You !

    October 20, 2008 at 2:23 pm |
  9. Troy

    It is good to see people in your capacity as entertainers and stars providing valuable services to the public and your people. You obviously remember where you come from and continue your support. I am also impressed with Shakira's valuable contributions to her country of origin in which I saw on a video documentary, as the thought crosses my mind. We need more inspiration in the world which is filled with greed and hate. Thank you for being that person,,,oh yea, tell Shakira i said hi!

    October 20, 2008 at 2:22 pm |
  10. hunter

    You are a good man. May the winds of good karma be with you.
    The world needs more people like Wyclef.

    October 20, 2008 at 2:19 pm |
  11. Phil

    The US has occupied Haiti for our political needs on at least 2 times. The people of haiti are probably our strongest supporters in the Carribean. They deserve our support and help.

    October 20, 2008 at 2:13 pm |
  12. Lewis Moore


    Your story is very moving, I really wish I had the resources to help out. I am currently enduring my own struggle here in the US, one day I truly wish to be in a position to devote at least 80% of my time helping others. Until that day, my thoughts will be with you.

    October 20, 2008 at 2:08 pm |
  13. friend23

    I wish I could help, but I live on an Indian reservation in the U.S. and we're not much better off than the Haitians. What Wyclef said is true – people should not live like this.

    October 20, 2008 at 2:03 pm |
  14. Hater shaker...


    great example you are. If only our other black millionaires cared enough to help our people like you did, we probably wouldn't be in such poverty. Tell the rich bling bling dingalings to become education advocates and small business advisors to help get our people out of the cycle of dumbness, arrogance, self pity and poverty....

    October 20, 2008 at 2:00 pm |
  15. Minnesota

    This is why I joined a mission trip to Haiti. We are leaving early next year to help the people there as much as we can. This is also why I sponsor a child in Haiti. Even though by US standards I do not have much, I have plenty and my sponsored child needs the money for food, clothes, medicine and education far more than I need it.

    The faith of the people there puts me to shame. Why should I ever despair when I live here, have a decent job, a safe, comfortable place to live, clean water, plenty of food, clean clothes, a car that runs perfectly...

    Thank you for putting Haiti in the spotlight. Please keep it up – never give up. Anything worth while is worth fighting for.

    October 20, 2008 at 1:53 pm |
  16. Kim

    We traveled to Haiti in June to help at a school in Port au Prince and purchased thousands of dollars worth of beans/rice only the realize that there are 4 HUGE warehouses behind walls that are guarded 24/7 by armed guards hired by the President....the employees told us they unload DONATED rice/beans from countries (US, France, etc.) and then paint over the bags (flags) and RESELL it to the people of Haiti for a profit....this is DONATED food sent by people of the United States and other countries...and then RESOLD to starving families in Haiti! We had to re-purchase what was sent to Haiti for free!!!! At least it got into the hands of individuals who had not eaten for days/weeks! This is a crime!!!! So much corruption at the top!!! How can we expect people to donate money for food when we don't know if it will actually get to the people when this happens???? I saw this myself!!!!

    October 20, 2008 at 1:51 pm |
  17. Kim Dowson

    Such a sad story. Thank you for telling it. It is important we don't forget about Haiti and other countries like it that are suffering. Here in Canada it's easy to forget how much people are forced to suffer on a daily basis. We simply have no idea. I was in the Dominican Republic when hurricane Jean hit in 2004. It was terrifying, but we (my family and I) had the means to escape afterwards and return to the safety of our homes. Many people in the Dominican and especially Haiti next door did not.
    We have so much. How can we allow this to happen to fellow human beings? We're worried about what's on sale at Wal-Mart this week, how much gas is going to cost us to get there and how we're going to look when we go. I think many of us, including mainstream media, has forgotten about basic human rights. What we have is not what's important, it's who we are. We're all human, we should all be helping each other to survive. Who cares about what Brittany's doing or where Angelina and Brad will be spotted next. Let's care about something real and do something to change it. People should not have to live this way. Thank you for bringing this story to the forefront. I hope we can all make a change for the better.

    October 20, 2008 at 1:47 pm |
  18. Abbe Eason

    Thank you for bringing attention to the plight of the Haitians. With all of the news coverage of the election, we forget the devastation that has just occurred. I will search for the website of your organization so I can help.
    It is people like you, who use their fame to do good in the world, and help those less fortunate, that I thank God for everyday. You are truly an example to the rest of us.

    October 20, 2008 at 12:26 pm |
  19. Lenora, Arlington, VA

    Dear Wyclef,

    Thank you for bringing this heartbreaking situation to the CNN blog. As I read your recount of events, it had me in tears. I can not imagine what they are going through. I wish I could volunteer in physical presence. I know times are very difficult in the US right now, but it really makes you realize that even though you may go thru things, for others there appears to be no way out, no help, no one taking the interest to realize the devistation. Thank you Wyclef for your post. I will go to Yele.org and see what there is that I can do to help.

    Take Care and Bless You.

    Lenora from VA.

    October 20, 2008 at 11:40 am |
  20. Cherisa

    This story has largely been ignored in the US. Haiti is not half way around the world, far removed from us by continents and oceans; this is only hours away from our developed nation. How do we live through Katrina and watch the same tragedy unfold in our backyard yet do nothing?

    The world doesn’t stop while we elect a new president. If airtime can’t be spared to share this story, please at least keep us updated on the blog.

    Thank you

    October 20, 2008 at 10:57 am |
  21. Max

    There is no REASON for people to live in such hardship. I would support positive CHANGE through non governmental organizations.


    October 20, 2008 at 10:43 am |
  22. Cindy

    It's great to see someone famous actually take up a cause because they care and not for publicity or photo ops. It is very obvious that you want what's best for Haiti.

    To be honest I haven't heard one thing at all about Haiti since the hurricane hit it. If it doesn't happen to America it seems that our media isn't interested in covering it. They quickly tell what ever happens and move on never to go back to it, if they even report on it at all.

    I hope that your hard work pays off and that these people get the help that they need.


    October 20, 2008 at 10:16 am |