More On Wyclef Jean and His Charity, Yele Haiti


So over the long weekend, Wyclef Jean gave both a press conference and a personal statement via YouTube, defending his foundation, Yele Haiti, and the fundraising it did in the aftermath of the earthquake that struck Haiti last Tuesday. In the video statement, Jean said he was “disgusted” with the allegations that his foundation was acting unethically in Haiti, and that he was distressed to find that “after digging kids up and putting them — finding cemeteries for them and the mud being overflooded, this is what I come back to. An attack on my integrity and my foundation.” And: “I never and would ever take money for my personal pocket when it comes to Yele.” He also says you can donate to any charity you choose–probably the most salient point here.

This is pretty much the exact modern fable of technology and good intentions and media confusion, neatly contained in one mess of a situation. Which is to say: In a world in which Doctors Without Borders, the Red Cross, UNICEF, etc., exist–professional relief organizations, in other words–why would you ever give money to a musician’s charitable foundation? This is not what musicians do well. The only thing more predictable than the rampant Twitter and media-based (see: MTV) promotion of Jean’s charity was the vitriolic backlash against it. Many indulged in both. Those who encouraged people to donate to Yele Haiti were essentially wrong long before the Smoking Gun broke the predictable news that the foundation’s finances were on less than the up and up. But so were those who acted betrayed when that news broke–news, by the way, of tax irregularities and years-old reports of questionable spending, not of direct malfeasance in relation to the foundation’s Haitian relief effort. It was a classic Internet spectacle, born of ignorance and good intentions: first the uncritical recommendation, then the uninformed repudiation, when neither position made much sense, based on the evidence.

Gawker’s Smoking Gun follow-up was equally inevitable, and though they sweated Hugh Locke, Yele Haiti’s embattled, probably-not-that-competent president, the site’s big scoop was one you didn’t need a source or an interview to get: “Yele Haiti is not a disaster relief organization.” Right…

Of course it’s fucking not! Organizations that do this full time have cash reserves so they can spend your money right away. They have trained employees and relationships all over the world. They have experience with what works and what doesn’t, and how to get things done in places where the infrastructure has otherwise broken down. Governments the world over trust them. No one had any reason to believe, beyond the fact that Yele Haiti was asking, that Jean’s foundation was in any position to deliver on any of the above capabilities. Even the innovation YH brought to the table–donation by text–was (and still is) being mirrored by the Red Cross, which was asking a healthy $10 to Yele’s comparatively modest $5. So why would you ever have given to Yele Haiti in the first place? Or have acted scandalized when the inevitable news arrived that the foundation wasn’t exactly suited to help out in a broken country?

Which isn’t to say that if you gave money to Yele Haiti, it won’t eventually make it into the country–it almost certainly will, especially given the level of scrutiny the foundation is now under. But it will get there later, and more inefficiently, than aid delivered by the pros. To whom you can still donate here–as has been true from day one of this awful sequence of events.