There's little to show for $15m – just broken promises

Wyclef Jean spoke passionately about the failures of established aid agencies

Click to follow
The Independent Online

In August 2010, I sat down for dinner with Wyclef Jean in the garden of a sprawling bungalow in La Plaine, an upmarket suburb of Port-au-Prince, to discuss his career as a celebrity humanitarian. We ate chicken and rice. It was just six months after swathes of the city were shaken to the ground, filling the streets with corpses and making millions homeless. Less than a mile away, thousands of earthquake victims were settling down for another night under the canvas of a tent city.

The singer, who at the time was running for Haiti's presidency, spoke passionately about the failures of established aid agencies to solve his country's ongoing problems. "S*** is f***ed up here, man!" he declared. "I arrived here 24 hours after the quake and I would say that minus the bodies on the floor and minus the smell, it looks exactly the same today as it did then. Nothing has changed and people are getting frustrated."

Mr Jean's assistant, from an expensive New York PR firm, showed off Yele's assets: some prototype emergency dwellings, a yurt full of food supplies, a water purification plant, and 21 trucks being used – or so she claimed – to distribute clean water to disaster victims.

When I asked about Yele's finances, he told me the charity had received $15m in donations since the January earthquake, and that some 60 percent of that money had already been spent helping victims.

When I checked  the figures against official paperwork the next day, it emerged that the actual figure was 16 percent.

Two years later, the rest of the money has been frittered away, with little to show for it. Those houses Mr Jean promised to build are nowhere to be seen. The water trucks are no longer in use. And the sprawling bungalow where we'd met, which the charity turns out to have purchased for $600,000, stands empty; a monument to empty promises.