Wyclef Jean talks about Haiti relief efforts in NY

Haitian musician and humanitarian Wyclef Jean, center, is joined by clergy including the Rev. Al Sharpton, left, and the Rev. Herbert Daughtry, right, during a news conference pledging their support to Yele, the humanitarian and relief organization headed by Jean in New York, Wednesday Jan. 27, 2010.

January 27, 2010 7:32:26 PM PST
Singer and producer Wyclef Jean is working with his foundation to deliver cooked meals, water and medical assistance to survivors of the devastating earthquake in Haiti.

At a gathering in Harlem on Wednesday attended by prominent New York black clergy, including the Rev. Al Sharpton, Jean spoke about his recent trip to Haiti and relief efforts by his Yele Haiti Foundation. At the same time, he urged President Barack Obama to make a "sustainable commitment" to rebuild the island nation during his State of the Union address on Wednesday night.

Speaking passionately and sometimes in metaphor, Jean said any aid to the country needs to include not only the tools but the knowledge for Haitians to be able to rebuild their country for the 21st Century.

"I need you all to bring the rod. I need you all to bring the boat. I need you all to bring the people that's going to teach them how to get on that boat, how to take that boat out to sea, how to fish and how to bring that fish back for their family," the 37-year-old Grammy-award winning artist said.

The powerful earthquake on Jan. 12 killed an estimated 200,000 people, displacing thousands and turning much of the nation's capital of Port-au-Prince into rubble. The monumental task of rebuilding has only just begun, and some, including Jean and members of the black clergy, have called for a project for Haiti modeled after the Marshall Plan to rebuild Western Europe after World War II.

Jean said he traveled to Haiti the day after an all-star telethon on Jan. 22, during which organizers have said they raised $57 million.

On this, his most recent trip to the country he left when he was 9 years old, he said there were "not as much bodies on the floor" as before, but that the "smell" of decomposing bodies under rubble was strong.

In spite of that, he said "the vibe that I got was very encouraging." He returned on Tuesday.

He said his foundation had a goal of serving 10,000 cooked meals of chicken or goat stew and rice and beans each Sunday, had obtained trucks to deliver water and was working to set up a medical camp to organize doctors and nurses arriving from overseas to lend their help.

The organization, formerly known as The Wyclef Jean Foundation Inc., hired new accountants in recent days after being dogged by questions that the charity had paid Jean to perform at fundraising events and bought advertising airtime from a television station he co-owns.

The black clergy announced their support of Jean's efforts beyond the immediate crisis, and Sharpton called him "the cultural and social personification" of Haitian resilience and strength.

"Our concern is that, first and foremost, as a lot of the cameras leave Haiti, that the attention of the world not leave it," the civil rights leader said.