When Sean Penn first heard about the devastating earthquake that hit Haiti last year, he thought he would lend his energy and money for at least two weeks.
Now, as the the one-year anniversary of the quake approaches on Jan. 12, Penn is busier than ever — having spent the last 12 months with few breaks. "There's no end point," he recently told The Hollywood Reporter. "This is where I'll be when I'm not working, for the rest of my life."
Penn's main role is as leader of the 55,000-person J/P HRO refugee camp in the Haitian suburb of Petionville, overseeing 11,000 tents, medical personnel, a market and food disbursement. He's also personally involved with the construction of various schools, rubble removal, and the more delicate task of dealing with violent gangs.
The Hollywood Reporter notes that the actor carries a concealed gun while touring the most dangerous areas.
It costs more than $450,000 a month to run Penn's refugee camp — something that would not be possible without support from Oxfam, Save the Children and other relief organizations. When Penn first arrived, he knew right away that his own cash would only go so far. “I started paying for stuff,” he notes, “and that was when I thought, ‘OK, I better figure this out, because at this burn rate I’ll last about a week and a half.’ "
It's obvious that Penn's experiences in Haiti have impacted him greatly — to the point even where he can no longer just walk away and hope for the best. It's almost as if the future of thousands rests on his shoulders, a stress that reporter Stephen Galloway notes is taking its toll.
"Deep gashes of sleep deprivation line his face," he writes. "His eyes seem half-closed with fatigue."
In Haiti, Sean Penn has found a kind of all-consuming mission that, in his view, seems to suit him just fine. “Let’s face it,” he admits. “I’m a person that feels pretty alienated from the rest of the world and never felt understood by anyone.”