Wyclef on Haiti and how music saved his life

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(AP Photo/ Louis Lanzano)

Wyclef Jean, best known as a Grammy Winning artist who has sold over 50 million records and toured the world both with The Fugees and as a solo artist, has a lesser-known side. He is a humanitarian – giving back to his native country, Haiti, where he is said to be so popular that if he were to run for president, he could win.

But Wyclef has no intention of running for office. Rather he involves himself in the improvement of his native country through a charity called Yéle Haiti. The help is much needed in a country whose majority of residents live on less than two dollars a day and unemployment is close to 80 percent. Haiti is the poorest nation in the western hemisphere.

”[A] lot of times people say that they want to help poverty, but you cripple poverty by constantly providing aid without it being sustainable,” Wyclef said.

One of Yéle Haiti’s goals is to improve education – a daunting task considering the government cannot afford to sponsor public schools, so 95 percent of parents have to pay tuition for their children. Many families cannot afford it, so up to an estimated one million children do not receive a formal education. Yéle Haiti gives school supplies, trains teachers, provides scholarships for 4,500 children, and even donates water reservoirs to schools to ensure clean drinking water for the students.

“When we started it, we said it’s not going to be a charity, it’s going to be a movement,” Wyclef said. “I was sort of tired of seeing these naked kids running around saying ‘please give us money.’”

Wyclef feels that lack of opportunity in Haiti could cost Americans money.

“If you don’t care, people will constantly take boats and come over to Miami, land in Florida and all of a sudden your like, ‘Aww man we got to ship these people back,’” Wyclef said.

But Wyclef’s humanitarianism doesn’t stop with Yéle Haiti. He also is using new technology to encourage young people to get involved in their community through what he calls “the clefzone” on Wyclef.com, a music site that combines social networking with giving back to the community.

“Any big endorsement deal I do it there got to be a charity component. If you sell me 50 CD’s the first week, I ain’t really satisfied with that. But if you sell 50 CD’s in your neighborhood, you took five homeless people to go eat, and on top of that you just collected a box with all clothes in it, this is what Obama is talking about, social responsibility,” the musician said.

Even with all of Wyclef’s charity work, music is still his first love. He told theGrio.com that it’s his form of expression during the difficult times. Music is also a tool he uses to inspire others.

In a rhyme exclusively for theGrio.com, he said, “By the time I’m sixty, I want to see a trillion, give it all back to the African children.”