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28134: Severe(pub): Christian Science Monitor Story on Wyclef (fwd)
From: Constantin Severe <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Hip-hop star brings help - and hope - to Haiti
By Amy Bracken | Contributor to The Christian Science Monitor
CITÉ SOLEIL, HAITI - 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 Cité 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
Jean's Yéle 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 Yéle 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 Yéle as an expanding movement. "I always say that Yéle Haiti
is not a charity. It's a movement. We don't really need your charity, we need
your movement. So physically do something."
Yéle 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.
Robert Duval, a former local soccer star now revered for his creation of
L'Athletique d'Haiti, says his group gets a boost not just from the funds Yéle
provides. "We've been here eight years, and we've been doing a relatively good
job," he says, "but now Wyclef puts so much electricity into the job that we
get to be known more, and people get excited, and then the best comes out."
Today, through Yéle, 20 schools have been rebuilt, more than 2,000 people who
weren't regularly receiving basic food now are, 1,700 previously unemployed men
and women of all ages are working to clean the streets, and 3,754 students are
receiving scholarships. With ongoing support from ComCEL, Yéle has pledged to
almost double the number of scholarships in 2006, and is rolling out program
expansions in higher education, environmental awareness, sports, food
distribution, and HIV prevention.
And Yéle, from the Creole word for "cry" or "yell," is growing louder, with
more initiatives being done through music.
Jean recently emceed a hip-hop contest in the Bel Air slum as part of the
USAID-funded Clean Streets project. From 50 contestants in three different
slums, Haitian rap star "Jimmy O" Alexandre and Jean selected four from each
neighborhood to perform in Bel Air.
The crowd and Jean himself were stunned by the show. "I held my tears back
because I'm a tough guy, but it was very emotional," Jean later said. "I mean,
there was hope in their eyes. They're super stars in their own country, and the
world just doesn't know who they are yet, but they're going to know."
Jean, who said he learned to speak English by rhyming, says hip hop is
universal and the best way for youths to communicate. He says he wants these
Haitians to see themselves on television and to be discovered by the world.
That's why he purchased Haitian TV station Telemax. One station feature will be
the live finale of the hip hop competition.
ComCEL Executive Director Bernard Fils-Aime said the movement also involves
broadening the horizons of the wealthy elite by connecting them with the poor
majority. ComCEL and Yéle plan to do this by organizing soccer competitions
between different kinds of neighborhoods, and through school trips to plant
Jean says he hopes to produce all kinds of Haitian musicians through his label
Sak Pasé (What's Up) Records. "I think the Haitian people are just the coolest
in the universe, you know? And I want to always let them know, y'all are jazzy,
y'all are sexy, and don't let anybody twist that," he says.