Sean Penn and Ann Lee Are at the CORE of Community Rebuilding

© Photo Courtesy of CORE
By Raye Mocioiu

Oscar-winner Sean Penn has branded himself a hero both on-screen and off. The Flag Day star has long used his Hollywood power to mobilize and motivate change internationally. From humanitarian efforts in New Orleans and Haiti to political controversies the likes of which have only been ventured by the bravest of journalists, Sean Penn has a history of boldly taking action for causes he cares about.

In 2010, an earthquake rocked Haiti, causing significant damage to multiple cities in the region and affecting over three million people. Within hours of the disaster, Penn founded CORE (Community Organized Relief Effort), which immediately mobilized a powerful network to take action, operating a 55,000 person tent camp for displaced locals.

“When I met Sean in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, I was working for one of the biggest U.S. NGOs,” says CORE co-founder Ann Lee. “Initially, I was cynical of an actor coming in to help, but Sean’s vision and perspective as an outsider proved different. Soon, he and I began to conspire against the traditional—and flawed—ways of emergency response. Instead, Sean shoe-stringed innovation to respond swiftly to one of the worst disasters of modern time, building lasting change in the hardest hit, poorest neighbourhoods. He has infused that mentality in our work over the past decade.”

Lee, who has a long history of humanitarian efforts, worked as the lead on urban humanitarian response for the UN’s Organization for Coordination and Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and a private-sector liaison for the Secretary General’s World Humanitarian Summit. With Lee and Penn at the helm, CORE’s efforts have continued, employing hundreds of Haitians who implement programs focused on education, reforestation, and community development. Who better, after all, to lead a community to positive change than the community members themselves?

“In 2017, in the wake of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, we realized we could take our many years of emergency response experience and help communities in the Caribbean,” Lee continues. “This was a pivotal moment for CORE as we were able to extend our work beyond Haiti and apply our model of working directly with the local community and government.”

More than ten years later, the organization continues to lead sustainable programs focused on four pillars: emergency relief, disaster preparedness, environmental resiliency and community building. The latter has proved a vital lesson, not just for the organization, but for the hard-hit communities it helps.

“The biggest impact we made in Haiti was centering all humanitarian action through and in support of communities and their social, cultural, and physical infrastructure, which in turn strengthens them against the next crisis—be it a natural disaster, economic downturn, or otherwise,” Lee shares. “We listened, we learned, and we engaged the local community to be their own best agents for rebuilding THEIR community. That ethos is the foundation to CORE.”

Today, CORE is working on the ground in Abaco and the East End of Grand Bahamas Island to support the hardest-hit communities recover through debris removal, housing repair, community infrastructure planning, and economic support.

“We are not saviours,” says Lee. “We are not coming to help for the glory and recognition, and then leaving once the initial job is completed. We are trusted partners to the community, and that requires close collaboration with community leaders and members to ensure we are addressing their needs.”

Global Heroes January 2022 - 006-GHN - Sean Penn - Core
Global Heroes January 2022 - 006-GHN - Sean Penn - Core
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CORE responds immediately to support underserved communities across the globe through and beyond crisis.

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