20 May 2010

Sean Penn’s Missing Notes

Here is an excerpt of Sean Penn’s statement to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee with the notes he did not include when sharing it with the Huffington Post.

Mr. Chairman, members of the committee, my name is Sean Penn (speak humbly, low tone, head down, make it seem like they don’t know who I am when it is impossible to not know me, I am Sean Fucking Penn baby!). I have been in Haiti as Director and CEO of my NGO J/P Haitian Relief Organization (say it slowly so that people will know where to send their money), and have been on the ground in Haiti since the first week (emphasize this point so people know that I was there right from the start, try to make it seem like I was the first person there and care more than everyone else) following January's earthquake. Since that time, my team and I have lived in a tent camp (going native might be a better phrase) in the Bourdon area of Port au Prince, adjacent to and administering aid to a 55,000 person (inflate number to sound like it is most of the country) IDP camp (super dangerous, be sure to look worn and brave/fearful at once), one of the largest ad-hoc camps in the country. My organization (gimmie money) has been designated by the UN International Office of Migration as camp management for this IDP camp.

From our first days in Haiti, my team and I witnessed amputations without anesthesia (graphic picture and/or long pause) or IV pain medication, things we soon were able to supply to hospitals and clinics throughout the city and the country (Sean Fucking Penn saves lives!). Limbs severed in spontaneously raised tent operating rooms, dusty and mosquito ridden (picture of me in scrubs looking on with concern while operation is taking place). Limbs severed from children with tools more familiar to our local hardware store (make sure to check images of that online to be sure they still look the same as they did the last time I went in 1986) than to those we traditionally expect in the hands of surgeons. It is true that this stage of post quake trauma and drama (got a little poetic with that rhyme SFP!) has largely subsided.

Only 2 weeks ago however, a less tangible, visible or fundable emergency raised its head. Our camp clinic diagnosed what became the first confirmed case of diphtheria (take that Red Cross!). I rode in the back of the ambulance while the patient was refused from several hospitals because the 15-year-old boy, Oriole Lynn Peter (didn’t bother to ask it if was alright to use his name or video him, but who cares? I saved his ass), was diagnosed with a disease for which those hospitals had no treatment capability. In this city of ruins, 5 (hold up hand with fingers spread apart, Senators are dumb and need to count my fingers) fully functional hospitals have been allowed to close despite these emergent disasters, facing financial under-support and over-scrutiny (get these people asking where the money is going off my back, now). In many cases, the bureaucracy of international aid is protecting people to death. Diphtheria is among the first five things that an American traveling to Haiti is inoculated against (only needed one shot but five makes me sound tougher), and yet, in this devastated country with hundreds of millions of American donated dollars of dedicated emergency aid and billions pledged (to go to pay for my next trip to Venezuela) for reconstruction, there were no isolation wards, few ventilators, and despite the all out last minute efforts of the American Red Cross (too slow!), the administrations of every major hospital in the city, the dedicated and beyond job description effort of the commander of the US military forces (keep it together, do not smirk or show disdain for US military) in Haiti (Major General Trombitas), the WHO, USAID (ha!), and the CDC, along with a fractured Haitian Ministry of health (make it clear that they are unable to function with out me, their savior, SFP!), it took 14 hours (always double the actual number) between all of these organizations to locate a single patient dose of the immunoglobulin that would likely have saved this 15 year old boy's life had it been readily available.

As we rode through the rubble and traffic blocked streets in search of his care I held the ankle of an animated and normal 15-year-old boy who to his own knowledge was merely suffering from a sore throat and a bit of a fever (oh the ignorance of the poor). He couldn't have known that the grey hued bacteria would kill him within a day and a half (dramatic pause) and it did. Since that day, a series of diphtheria cases have come to light, including another one in our camp brought to our hospital four days ago. But diphtheria is only one of many diseases that threaten (OK generalize about conditions so that they still think I am needed and can go back), in particular, the 1.8 million displaced today, living in compressed and unsanitary camps, where tent to tent construction would take one match to create the inferno that could incinerate thousands (note to self, do a fire movie like Backdraft). In a city with nearly no access to electricity there is little fuel to run generators (because I am using all of it), few lights to generate, and the rapes of women and children occur at will (hat tip to Nick Kristof for including that one). It will be the rain of this season that spreads the diarrheal diseases that globally finds its victims - 80% among children under 5 (there are no adults in the third world, especially men). There are hundreds of thousands of them in Port au Prince alone. It should be said that while there are claims to grand programs of immunization it is the simple truth that most Haitians remain unprotected and that there is little evidence that those that have been immunized have records or access to establish boosters and follow up necessary with all immunizations (re. I will do it for you if you give me more money to fund my brand new non-for-profit). It should also be said that in a city the size of Port au Prince, as with all the densely populated areas in Haiti, the idea that, as in the case with the diphtheria immunoglobulin, a single warehouse maintains what little supply may exist is an unacceptable acceptance (let me in so I can hand it out and they will make me king!).

Prevention is difficult to get people excited about (maybe we should have another Live ___). But cold chains for the transport and preservation of these necessary immunizations and treatments must be established throughout Port au Prince and Haiti, as must stockpiles of the necessary remedies for the dehydration that comes with diarrheal diseases. It must also be said that the quality and training of pre quake health care in Haiti was already at a minimum (they needed my help before this happened, but I waited around for a disaster to be able to be on CNN and speak to you fools) and that with the death and flight of so many among the most capable in the Haitian medical community, that it will be some time before the international medical staff will be relieved of the humanitarian and training demand (I will stay for-ev-er).



To do the whole thing would have taken up too much time and I wanted to lift up the end of Penn’s statement because he does discuss the very important issue of transparency:

Make no mistake, this is a war against our ally and neighbor, and we have only this chance to show the world that we are willing to fight that war to save its victims and are not dependent on hating and killing their assailant. It is a war against the diseases and preventable disasters caused by nature and poverty. We must also not underestimate the likelihood, known to all of us on the ground in Haiti, of violent social unrest. As Americans, we should call on the Government of Haiti and on our own government, to acknowledge that a state of emergency still exists. To demand FULL TRANSPARENCY in the way that aid is distributed and accountability for how aid organizations advertise themselves in the solicitation of funds. Full and total transparency. Now is the time for all concerned parties to acknowledge that an "emergency phase" is simply an economic determination, and that the prevention of foreseeable human tolls on massive levels, in particular young children, cannot be summarily dismissed by the aspiration of a monumental reconstruction, offering empowerment, demanding independence and governance, or claiming it as a distraction from the rebuilding of a country that in many ways was never built in the first place.

Yeah, I do think Penn is a bit self serving, but I hope that at the very least he can hold his own organization to the standards he has set in regards to transparency.  He is correct that it will take a long time and at the end discusses a vision of sustainable projects.  Most of all, I want to see him call out Wycliffe for running a poor organization that pays his buddies well and delivers little in terms of service (prior to the earthquake).


Commentary added was done in jest and not meant in any way to lessen the importance of good aid and development in Haiti.  Sadly, voices like Mr. Penn’s are sought over experts who can speak more specifically to how the effort in the country should move forward.  I will admit to being bothered by the fact that someone like Mr. Penn can sweep in and all of a sudden become an expert who reports to the US Senate.  For me, it trivializes the great work of the people who have labored in this field to improve it for many years.  I am not in that position, but I personally would like to hear more from someone who has dealt with Haiti and disasters before.