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Helping Haiti is Personal Mission for 'Heroes' Actor Jimmy Jean-Louis

Haitian-born actor Jimmy Jean-Louis of the popular NBC series 'Heroes' at the 'Sustainable Haiti' conference in Miami, 18 Mar 2010
Haitian-born actor Jimmy Jean-Louis of the popular NBC series 'Heroes' at the 'Sustainable Haiti' conference in Miami, 18 Mar 2010

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A year-and-a-half ago, Pan American Development Foundation (PADF) asked Haitian-born actor, Jimmy Jean-Louis to be its Goodwill Ambassador for children. Jean-Louis, is perhaps best known for his role as the "Haitian" in the NBC hit series "Heroes".  Independent, non-profit PADF has over 150 people all over Haiti working on projects such as protecting human rights, community-driven development and disaster relief. After January 12, PADF partnered with Hollywood Unites For Haiti, his own foundation. 

As rewarding as the work has been, the actor is now on a personal mission to help rebuild the country where he was born and where he still has family.  An emotional Jean-Louis talked about the devastation he saw after the January 12 earthquake and during his subsequent visits back to his homeland.   

"Right after the earthquake it was that sense of - I was happy to go back to my parents, because they were there, when the earthquake took place," Jean-Louis explains. His parents' home is located in Tabarre, just outside Port-au-Prince. Jean-Louis says his family is doing "good...better" after the earthquake. 

"My parents lost their house, my sister lost her house - pretty much everybody lost whatever they had in Haiti. But it's just material," Jean-Louis notes. "I think everybody is in that same state." 

Jimmy Jean-Louis didn't lose any close relatives on January 12 but he did lose some distant relatives. And his house collapsed, killing a 28-year-old man who was living there. After telling the story, the actor pauses to contemplate the tragedy of a young life lost so suddenly - there's sadness in his eyes.

Although he lives a somewhat charmed, Hollywood life, Jimmy Jean-Louis says he always enjoys going back to Haiti - even now.   

"What goes through my mind when I go back to Haiti? It's always joy regardless of the situation. Even with the earthquake it's one place where I feel complete," he says. "I just feel being myself whenever I'm in Haiti."  

Jean-Louis just got back from Haiti. Accompanying him were Dominican-born actress Dania Ramirez who also stars in "Heroes" and former National Basketball Association player Cliff Robinson. Robinson played for the New Jersey Nets until 2007.

Jean-Louis says what he saw was very painful. He mentions the St. Louis de Gonzague neighborhood that has become a "huge" tent city. People are living in very tight quarters he says.  The actor remembers thinking about those tent-dwellers while lying in bed at his home in Haiti on a rainy night. He says the area where the tent city is located is flat meaning a heavy rainfall floods their living quarters.

"It's heartbreaking to know that they're living under those conditions," an emotional Jean-Louis says. "Some of them don't even have any food the next day - or at least have some kind of ... comfort - so it's a really bad situation, it doesn't matter how you look at it. Now we have to find solutions."

Jimmy Jean-Louis hopes celebrities who travel to Haiti will keep the country in the news and on people's minds.

"Both of them [Dania Ramirez and Cliff Robinson] now are going to be able to reach out to a lot of people because they have a big network," Jean Louis says. Robinson has access to NBA fans while Ramirez also has many fans due to her appearance in the popular movie "X-Men".

But Jean-Louis hopes the involvement and visits by more Hollywood celebrities will keep attention on the country. 

"If it's a question of having to do the effort without being pushed, they might not do it," he says. "[But] There are still a lot of people in Hollywood dedicated to the Haitian cause."  Jean-Louis cites actor Sean Penn who has spent a lot of time inside Haiti helping to rebuild and provide humanitarian assistance. Penn established a private Haiti relief foundation with a U.S. businesswoman.  He says movie director Paul Haggis has also taken many celebrities to Haiti during his visits. Among them: Josh Brolin, Diane Lane and Madeleine Stowe.     

Asked whether he thinks the "Sustainable Haiti" conference discussion forums will have any impact in real terms on Haiti, the actor says he thinks change will happen. He also thinks it would be beneficial to organize a similar type of conference inside Haiti. 

Stories on Haiti have significantly diminished in the press, more than two months after the devastating 7.0 earthquake. But Jimmy Jean-Louis hopes his effort as PADF ambassador and those pursued by his foundation, will make a difference.

"What I've been trying to do is keep that issue alive," he says. "We just have to keep reminding them, we have to. In America, in Asia, in Europe we have to keep Haiti on the map. We have to keep Haiti in the news, because otherwise we're not going to have the help that is necessary to do what we need to do to rebuild Haiti."  

The actor says it will require money and constant attention and he's committed to making sure that happens.

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