Matt Damon and Wyclef Jean Unite to Fight Poverty
Matt Damon with members of
The African Children's Choir.
Photo: Jeff Chiu/AP Photo
by Dorinda Elliott
Talk about the power of travel and celebrity. At the third fund-raiser for OneXOne, in San Francisco last night, actor Matt Damon, hip-hop artist Wyclef Jean, rock star Carlos Santana, singer Josh Groban, director David Arquette, and the African Children's Choir came together to raise money to fight poverty and improve the lives of children in the U.S. and around the world. The key beneficiaries: Damon's H2O Africa, which funds water projects in Africa; Water Partners, with water projects around the world; Yele Haiti, which supports development in Haiti; and Feeding America, which runs food programs across the U.S.
What's the travel connection? Damon's interest in water issues stems from a trip he took two years ago to southern Africa, where he saw the opportunities that water wells can offer people. He has also become involved in fighting poverty in Haiti. Damon traveled there with Wyclef Jean after Hurricane Ike hit, and helped distribute food. What Damon saw in Haiti--the city of Gonaive submerged in water, people desperate for food, "the smell of death"--was "something I have never, ever seen before," Damon said. "Clef looked at said, 'This is not human. No one should have to live like this.'"
After the trip, Damon traveled to the Clinton Global Initiative meetings in New York, where he joined a multi-faceted commitment to support projects in Haiti that will provide food for 20,000 families for a year, supply 36,000 farmers with seeds, provide five million liters of clean water, rebuild thousands of homes, support education for 600,000 students, rebuild two bridges that were destroyed, and rebuild 12 schools. "This is fantastic," Damon says, "but what we need down there is a Marshall Plan." Jean's Yele Haiti foundation is developing plans to support small businesses, and he wants to attract investment for tourism. "That's what I'm talkin' about," says Jean, decked out in a black suit, a crisp white shirt, and a purple tie. "We don't want charity--we want tourism."
The fund-raiser auction got heated, with several guests bidding against themselves. "This must be a new San Francisco tradition, bidding against yourself," Damon quipped. "My compliments on the selection of the wine tonight." The auctioneers sold three trips to visit Damon on the set of his next movie, The Human Factor, about Nelson Mandela, which will be directed by Clint Eastwood and filmed in South Africa, for $200,000 each. "If Eastwood doesn't like the idea of having a lot of people around the set," Damon said, "I guess my trailer's going to be pretty crowded with a lot of people playing video games."
* "Good Work Hunting": Matt Damon talks with Conde Nast Traveler
* A Conversation with Wyclef Jean: The Conde Nast Traveler interview
* Video: Matt Damon on Americans Abroad
* Make a Difference: Regular coverage of social responsibility and travel on CNT