Cause Celeb highlights a celebrity’s work on behalf of a specific cause. This week, we speak with Grammy Award-winning hip-hop star Wyclef Jean, who founded the Yéle Haiti Foundation to raise global awareness for his native Haiti, and to aid the country through programs that assist in rebuilding the country.
In 2007 he was appointed roving ambassador of Haiti by Haitian President Rene Preval. and on August 5, 2010, he applied to be a candidate for president of Haiti but was told he could not run because he didn't meet residency requirements.
Q: Can you tell me about the Yéle Haiti Foundation you founded and what motivated you to take action?
Jean: In 2005 I founded Yéle Haiti. What caused me to take action is I left Haiti when I was 9 years old and came to the United States. I lived in the Marlboro Projects in Brooklyn, then I moved to Flatbush Avenue. Rough areas. Then I moved to Newark … very rough area. I went to Vailsburg High School.
My younger brother, we are a year apart, also came from Haiti. He became a lawyer, I got into music. What I noticed when we came to America, there was something called an American Dream, and it was basically like a kid had an opportunity so even if you was in the projects you still can get a bus card. Even though you're in the projects you still can go to the library.
So, when I went back to Haiti with the Fugees in 1997, it was always in my heart, like, what can I do for this country? So, I started this organization because I wanted to give kids in Haiti an alternative and let them know that that same little space that I had in America that gave me a choice, through Yéle Haiti I gave them that choice — through education, through job creation.
Q: Have you used your music to help raise awareness for Haiti?
Jean: I mean, automatically all my life I’m a Fugee, you know what I mean? Fugees is short for refugees. Coming in the music game, that was our whole thing. We wanted to raise awareness for Haiti, but more than Haiti, the world. I mean, Haiti is the second republic in the Americas, right? So the idea would be if Haiti is better, the rest of the world is better, so definitely.
Q: Can you recall one of your foundation’s efforts that you found most effective?
Jean: Yeah, one of them would be a kid named Emanuel from a slum in Haiti called Bel Air. We found him and he was intoxicated, he was 9 years old, so we put him inside of a program and we can say today he’s in school, he’s reading, he’s writing, and he’s drinking water (laughs).
Q: Have you achieved the goals you set out to?
Jean: I think my goals are much bigger because Yéle Haiti started as a grassroots organization. The idea, in my head, is how do we give people aid to help them aid themselves? So I think as a grassroots organization, we’re doing it on a smaller level. I would just like to see it done on a bigger level, so partnering up with different NGOs to make that happen.
Q: Aside from Haiti, are there any other charitable causes you are involved with?
Jean: Man, you know, I’m really dear to one of the things that I always fight for, human rights around the world. Another cause that is dear to my heart is HIV, the way that it spreads through the world. Another cause that I constantly fight for is child trafficking around the world, and also the diamond trade, you know the idea of taking young kids and using them as soldiers to benefit wealthy people, that’s terrible.
Interviewed by Ari Einleger, NBC News