Haitian Orphans Launch Celebrity Intervention in LA

10/20/2010 01:44 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Los Angeles - A group of Haitian orphans is in Los Angeles for a week-long trip to raise awareness for the cause they consider essential to the recovery of their nation - preventing the arrival of any more celebrities to rescue Haiti.

"What we want to see is effective policy prescriptions for Haiti, not dilettantes in photo-vests," said 11 year-old Henri Bellereve, one of the three orphans who made a surprise visit to Nobu, the popular LA eatery renowned for celebrity sightings.

Nine months after the devastating January 12, 2010 earthquake, Haiti has seen actor Sean Penn, singer Wyclef Jean, former President Bill Clinton - and now, Prince Charles lend their names and support to the recovery process.

Despite the A-list names, roughly 1.3 million people continue to live in "tent city" refugee camps, and much of the funding intended for the reconstruction remains undisbursed.

"The celebrities we have now - sure, they mean well," said another of the orphans, 13 year-old Lucien Napoleon, while declining to pose for a photograph with a Hollywood B-lister eating a macrobiotic salad and eager to brand himself with a cause.

The group was motivated to act by what they say is the "false promise" of celebrity in the recovery process. "Fugees" frontman Wyclef Jean, they point out, was denied the right to run for president in Haiti and immediately descended into petty politicking, before Brown University redeemed him.

Piping into the conversation is 12 year-old Geraldine Pierre.

"What's most significant now is that of the $1.15 billion in reconstruction funds pledged to Haiti by the US government in March, just $300 million has been spent. The rest has been held up in State Department bureaucracy," she said.

"Sometimes you think, What if we had a really cool celebrity helping us get those funds? Like the former leader of the free world, whose wife is the Secretary of State?" said Pierre.

"Then you realize - Oh, wait. We already have that," she said.

Trailed by a crew from Haitian television, the group toured renowned celebrity eateries, including and the Ivy, Chateau Marmont and Sunset Tower, to see for themselves what gives rise to celebrity do-gooderism.

Noting the $28 Lobster Cobb salad at Sunset Tower's Terrace restaurant, Napoleon sighed. "These are exactly the conditions that send a Ben Affleck to the Congo."

But doesn't having a celebrity name attached to a humanitarian crisis raise awareness?

Bellereve admits their mission is controversial.

"Clooney throws a telethon, and everyone gets to feel warm and fuzzy texting $10 to Wyclef Jean, under the assumption the money will be spent and spent well," said Bellereve.

But the problem, he says, is lack of follow-up.

"At this point, what we wonder is, do celebrities actually motivate people to help, or do they think, That's OK - Sean Penn's fixing it?"

What the group says they don't want for Haiti is what we've seen in other countries, from Burma to Rwanda.

"More often than not, celebrities refill the coffers or their own consciences with a week of roughing it by pretending to be an aid-worker or a journalist," says Napoleon. "Then it's back to the red carpets, and we're long since forgotten."

As reconstruction efforts in Haiti falter, the first deaths are being reported by people killed in storms associated with hurricane season because of the limited shelter provided by a living in a tent. Just two percent of rubble has been cleared from the capital, Port-au-Prince, meaning just 10 percent of stronger temporary shelters have been built. Sexual assault in camps is rampant.

When Prince Charles lent his name to rebuilding Port-au-Prince's historic center, the orphans realized it's time to work more effectively with the celebrities they have, before bringing in more.

"Who knows? Maybe it will work," says Pierre. "But I'd like to quit living in a tent and in fear of being raped or getting cholera before I spend my Saturdays shopping for souvenirs at the restored Iron Market."

The orphans' two day visit includes a number of speaking engagements, including at the Kabbalah Center of Los Angeles and the Church of Scientology.