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At dusk on Tuesday (Feb. 26), an hour before a Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) panel on life in Haiti since its devastating 2010 earthquake, a long line of audience hopefuls stretched down JFK Street. It was the kind of queue you might see at a movie premiere.
And there was a movie star at the Institute of Politics (IOP), where the guests are usually pundits, politicians, and policymakers.
Activist actor and sometime director Sean Penn was among three panelists for “Haiti: Progress and Challenges Three Years Later.” His nonprofit J/P Haitian Relief Organization coordinates local, rapid, and sustainable aid, including medical, engineering, and camp-relocation services.
Three years ago, a 7.0-magnitude quake struck Haiti and was followed by a popping string of 52 aftershocks. The quake affected 3 million people, a third of Haiti’s population. At least 300,000 were killed, an equal number injured, and a million displaced.
With Penn on stage at the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum were Michèle Pierre-Louis, a former Haitian prime minister (2008-2009) and an IOP fellow in 2010, and Army Lt. Gen. P.K. “Ken” Keen. In the aftermath of the quake, he was commander of Joint Task Force Haiti — Operation Unified Response.
Moderating the panel was Mary Jo Bane, the Thornton Bradshaw Professor of Public Policy and Management at HKS.
Divergent as their roles were in post-earthquake Haiti, the panelists delivered at least one common message: Hell may be behind for Haiti, and hope may be ahead, but true recovery will take a very long time — “generations,” suggested Keen. Penn was more optimistic. “It’s coming in 15 years,” he told the capacity crowd. “I’ll see you there.”
“There is reason for hope,” offered a cautious Pierre-Louis, who praised the resilience and dignity of the Haitian people, “but there is still much to be done.” The relief phase took a year, she said. Recovery is ongoing, and reconstruction has begun.
Forum panel, from L to R: Professor Mary Jo Bane; former Haitian prime minister Michèle Pierre-Louis; actor Sean Penn
Photo credit: Katherine Taylor, Harvard Gazette
“There is reason for hope,” offered a cautious Pierre-Louis, who praised the resilience and dignity of the Haitian people, “but there is still much to be done.”