Sean Penn shook as he received the 2012 Peace Summit Award for his humanitarian work in Haiti; the emotion overcame the larger-than-life actor during the gathering of the Nobel Peace Prize laureates in Chicago this week.
Udo Janz, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, introduced Penn to accept the honor: “Think of it as the Oscar for your humanitarian commitment Sean,” he mused.
Penn gave an emotional speech. “It’s an overused phrase, but I trust you know it’s genuine today,” Penn said. “I am humbled. I’m trembling and I like it.”
On Jan. 12, 2010, a modern-day apocalypse struck Port-au-Prince, Haiti (a 7.0 magnitude earthquake), that destroyed homes, schools, hospitals and left 1.5 million homeless and upwards of 300,000 people dead.
Seven days later, Sean Penn moved into a hut smack dab in the middle of death and destruction, organized a group of volunteers and began the work aimed to restore the lives of those affected. “My job is to help people get the future they want to have,” he said in an interview back then.
No one knew what to make of the swashbuckling A-list actor’s move to Haiti (was it for a new movie role? Does he need some good public relations? Is he adopting a child, like his ex-Madonna?), but two years later, Penn is still doing the good work in Haiti, and recently in Chicago former president Bill Clinton gave Penn the street cred he deserved: “Sean Penn, as I have always said, is not a drive-by celebrity in Haiti,” Clinton said. “He is the only movie star I’ve ever known to move into a (muddy) tent for three months.”
Penn’s group of workers oversee the Petionville Club, a make shift refugee camp in Haiti, and spends his time there when he’s not at home in Los Angeles.
Penn is the first non-Haitian to be tapped as an ambassador-at-large for President Michel Martelly; he is also the CEO of the prominent J/P Haitian Relief Organization. The organization operates two camps that house 18,000 people.
Penn had never been to Haiti before the earthquake. During his remarks, he urged the world community to get involved in Haiti’s recovery efforts.
“We have a very short window to support this team of the Haitian people’s choosing,” Penn said.
The Nobel Peace Lauretes convention ended on Wednesday, April 25.