Wyclef Jean has been one of the loudest voices in encouraging aid to Haiti following the catastrophic 7.0 earthquake that hit near Port-au-Prince late Tuesday afternoon. On his Web site, the artist pleaded with people to donate to his devastated homeland.
Wyclef has long worked to help the island nation garner international attention and build itself up. In 2004, he started the nonprofit Yele Haiti foundation to provide scholarships for the country’s children. He’s also worked with the United Nations World Food Programme to send assistance to the island. And, back in 1997, ’Clef and the Fugees took MTV News to Haiti for a concert for the people.
MTV News followed the group — which was riding the success of their hit album The Score — to Wyclef and Pras’ home country and visited everything from orphanages to the presidential palace, where they were given the VIP treatment. The musicians were well aware of the access their celebrity afforded them.
“We couldn’t have been here if it had not been for the people — in the homes, in the streets, in the cars, in their jeep — supporting us first,” Lauryn Hill said. “Wyclef said something really powerful. He said that on a normal day when we hadn’t sold 15 million records, he wouldn’t have been in the palace.”
MTV News also followed the group to former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s Lafanmi Seavi Orphanage. After his tumultuous presidency, Aristide returned to the orphanage he once ran. Despite his country’s incredible poverty, he said its people still have great pride.
“Haiti is one of the 20 poorest countries in the world, but first of all, we care about our dignity,” he said. “Wyclef is a star showing the dignity of the country amongst the artists of the world.”
During their visit, the Fugees made a direct appeal to the more fortunate people in Haiti and performed an exclusive benefit at a Club Med in Montrouis, in order to subsidize their goodwill efforts.
“I have to find a way through my music to make people aware: ’Can we find a middle class? Can we get jobs?’ Because there is money,” Wyclef said. “How can we get some of that money to make things work?”
Wyclef said their Club Med performance went well but that he wasn’t there for the upper class: “It’s cool, but I came to play for the people. The message I bring is for the people.”
The final, much bigger concert was in Port-au-Prince, where the Fugees performed in front of a reported 75,000 Haitians. They were joined onstage by Boukman Eksperyans, a very popular Haitian band named after Dutty Boukman, the vodou priest whose death was widely believed to have sparked the Haitian Revolution in 1791.
“For us, it’s about raising money to do something, to make a change, because this is our way of action,” ’Clef said.
Head to Think.MTV.com to find a community where you, your friends and your favorite celebrities can get informed, get heard and take action on the issues that matter to you most.