Lang Lang is one of my warriors of good. He's a Chinese pianist who amazes people all over the world. He's only 27, but he has already been an international goodwill ambassador to the United Nations Children's Fund (that's UNICEF) since 2004. I met him when we performed my song "Gunpowder" at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremonies for my man President Obama.
When the Jan. 12 earthquake devastated Haiti, it reminded him of a similar tragedy that rocked Sichuan Province in China in 2008. We knew we had to raise money for the victims. We're musicians, but we're warriors, too. We are fighting for a broken people with our instruments and our voices. Last Sunday night, before a sold-out audience at Carnegie Hall in New York, me and him performed "Gunpowder" again at a benefit concert.
So many innocent people have died in the streets of Port-au-Prince, in the country where I was born. I can't just sit still. Every day I think of my brothers and sisters who are living in ruins but hoping for brighter days. The concert that night raised $100,000 for UNICEF's Haiti relief program!
Imagine this: What if an earthquake hit Manhattan and everyone was left homeless in just a few minutes? That only begins to give you an idea of the devastation facing Haiti. The Jan. 12 earthquake left 1.3 million people homeless and took the lives of 230,000 Haitians. Three hundred thousand people were injured.
Port-au-Prince, the capital city, and many nearby villages sit in rubble. The suffering I saw when I got off the plane in Port-au-Prince the day after the quake...well, I can't think of words to describe it. The bodies of people killed and injured were everywhere, and we were actually pulling people out from the rubble and taking them to makeshift hospitals. More than 50 aftershocks kept pounding Haiti. I can tell you firsthand, some were extremely powerful. It was like the devil couldn't let go. In a country of 9 million, there isn't a single person who hasn't been affected by the quake.
Before that awful event, I already had an organization in place in Haiti. Five years ago I helped start Yéle Haiti, an NGO--nongovernmental organization--that has been dedicated to helping Haitians. I thank God for helping us get that going so long ago, because I literally hit the ground running when I landed in Port-au-Prince.
Haiti is starting to rebuild. So many partners around the world are helping. Since Jan. 12, Yéle Haiti has spent more than $1.3 million in recovery and relief work and has plans to spend nearly $8 million more. We're shipping containers filled with food, clothes, blankets and medical supplies, and last week my wife, Claudinette, went there with a group of NFL players and took these necessities to thousands of struggling families in places like Gressier and Léogâne, and lots more. In the last two months we've prepared and distributed 84,000 hot meals, delivered close to 700,000 gallons of filtered water, built 120 tents for shelter and given out hundreds of food ration kits. Man!!! We also supported Airline Ambassadors in their work to airlift medical and relief supplies to victims.
Yéle is small in terms of paid employees, but we're so blessed with an army of thousands of volunteers we call the Yéle Corps. They're my warriors of good, too.
Haiti was already one of the poorest countries in the world before this terrible disaster. Eighty percent of people lived in poverty and most Haitians lived on less than $2 a day. Less than $2! There were shortages of food, fuel and clean water, and many lived in shocking housing conditions before the quake. The rebuilding must come first, but that's just the beginning. I really want to invest in Haiti's future so the children can realize a better life.
Here are some words of wisdom. The Chinese philosopher Lao Tse said something very smart: "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, but teach him how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime." That's what I am going to do in Haiti. I have started developing Yéle Village, which will give hundreds of people jobs, and we're going to include a school, a substantial food production facility, a medical clinic and an orphanage. We're airlifting cans of food and ration kits right now to feed the starving, but we're also building a massive kitchen that will provide jobs and teach people skills. It makes me feel a little better knowing that tens of thousands of poor and hungry Haitians are going to be fed for many years to come.
I believe in my heart that there's always light after there is darkness. I recently recorded a song dedicated to another one of my good warriors, Jimmy O, who was a talented rapper and was killed during the quake when a building collapsed on his car. Some of the lyrics said, "Hold on be strong, no matter what you're going through, you know it's going to be okay, even when the earth quakes."
I ask my brothers and sisters in Haiti to hold on. Together with a world of other good warriors, we will build a better Haiti.
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