Thursday, September 18, 2008

Jean-Louis, Hero Of Haiti

Despite their seemingly innocent names, Tropical Storm Fay and hurricanes Gustav and Hanna left a trail of destruction as they swept across Haiti in the space of just eight days in late August. Rocked by years of civil war and political instability, the stricken Caribbean island is ill equipped to deal with the consequences of this latest tragedy.

According to official figures a total of 326 people have been killed and 50 injured during Haiti's hurricane season to date. But with many towns and villages still submerged by water, the likelihood is that the death toll will rise in the next few weeks.

One man who has resolved to do something to alleviate the situation is Haitian-born actor Jimmy Jean-Louis, a star of the American TV series Heroes and one of the country's most famous ambassadors since the hit show was first broadcast in 2006. Born in Petionville, a suburb of the capital city Port-au-Prince, Jimmy earned stardom the hard way, squatting in flats in Paris and taking on menial jobs all over Europe before making a name for himself in Hollywood.

Although a symbol of success for Haiti's youngsters, he has never forgotten his roots and is dismayed at the latest disaster to befall his homeland. "It's hard to raise a smile at the moment," he tells "Our island had enough troubles as it was. We didn't need nature to come along and make it worse."

"I'd been planning for a long time to go back at the end of August to visit my family," he adds. "After Gustav passed through everyone was telling me to cancel my trip but that was out of the question, and I was in Petionville when Hanna arrived. I've never seen anything so terrifying. Even so, I couldn't really complain because my area didn't suffer any damage at all."

Jimmy was in for a shock when he returned to Los Angeles, however. "Just a few kilometres away hundreds of people were dying but the only thing people were talking about here were the presidential elections in two months' time. The situation is far worse than when Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana and North Carolina in 2005. You just can't compare the infrastructures. Haiti is a poor country but no one seems interested."

The incessant rain caused rivers flowing down from the mountains to break their banks and destroy everything in their path, with the people of Gonaives, a town of 300,000 inhabitants in the north west of the country, coming off worst. Still underwater today, Gonaives has now been declared a disaster area.

UN response
In response to the catastrophe the UN is currently preparing to launch an international appeal for aid, and Jimmy has decided to use his celebrity status to help his ravaged country. With the support of his friends at Hollywood United FC (HUFC), the actor jetted back home at the start of September to donate some team strips to AJSB and Athletique d'Haiti, two sports associations operating in Cite Soleil and Bel Air, the poorest suburbs in Port-au-Prince.

"It might not seem much given the current situation but Haiti loves its football and sport gives young people a chance to get away from their problems," explains Jimmy. "They really live in poverty but having a ball at their feet brings a smile to their faces."

This small gesture is the first of a series of initiatives that Jimmy is hoping to put in place. Over the next two months he will travel to more of the capital city's suburbs to hand out more sports gear. At the same time he is also hoping to team up with Yele, an organisation founded by another famous Haitian, the singer Wyclef Jean, to raise money for his country by marketing T-shirts. With the support of Anthony LaPaglia, the star of another hit TV series Without A Trace and the president of HUFC, and some of his fellow cast-members on Heroes, Jimmy is also in the process of organising a fundraising evening in Los Angeles.

His most ambitious project involves his beloved sport of football, however. "I'd love to organise a match between the Haiti national team and a Rest of the World side. I remember the Peace Match back in 2004, when Brazil came to our island for a game. The whole country came out to celebrate having the champions here. It was crazy. A similar kind of event could really help a lot and I'm hoping to get everyone to commit to it really soon."

Although the situation remains grave in Haiti, as Jimmy's involvement shows, any kind of assistance can bring some much-needed relief.

Source: Fifia.Com

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