Wyclef Helps Out at Home Haitian-born rapper’s new organization brings aid to his homeland Haitian-born hip-hop artist Wyclef Jean returned to his homeland in January to launch Yele Haiti, a multipronged effort that will bring aid and attention to the impoverished Caribbean nation as it endures what the former Fugee calls “a mini civil war.”
Jean and his cousin Jerry “Wonder” Duplessis (who co-produced the Fugees’ 1996 album, The Score) launched Yele Haiti on January 11th with an impromptu concert for about 2,000 children in the capital city of Port-au-Prince.”With Clef, he’s like the Bob Marley for Jamaica, the Beatles for England, Elvis for America,” says Duplessis. “People trust him.”
Yele’s first initiative is to provide 134 scholarships to the Sports Academy, an after-school program that offers education, soccer training and hot meals. Sponsored by Haitian wireless-services provider ComCEL, the scholarships are part of a larger effort by Yele to improve the educational infrastructure of Haiti. Yele will also rebuild twenty schools and provide 3,600 scholarships in the city of Gonaives, where thousands were killed in floods following Tropical Storm Jeanne last fall.
Already the West’s poorest country, Haiti has been rocked by political strife since the ousting of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in February 2004. The ensuing power struggle among Aristide loyalists, police and guerrilla gangs has slowed the flow of international aid into the country. Jean spoke and performed at the World Bank’s Haiti conference in Washington, D.C., on December 15th to urge greater assistance. “It was packed as if it was Madison Square Garden,” Jean says. “We raged off a carnival right there in the World Bank.”
Waves of violence forced Jean to cancel a massive peace concert that was planned for December, but he hasn’t abandoned hope. His plans include a “world festival” in Port-au-Prince this summer with an all-star lineup of ar!tists, possibly including a reunited Fugees. Last fall, Jean met twice with gang and police leaders to broker a cease-fire, but peace lasted only for the duration of his visits. Afterward, reports circulated over Haitian radio linking Jean’s nonpolitical organization to the pro-Aristide movement. “Haiti is the country of rumors,” says Jean. “If you want to know whose side Wyclef is on, it’s the side of the kids.”