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Sean Penn praises Israeli NGO during first-ever visit to Tel Aviv

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Sean Penn, left, meets with Israeli president Shimon Peres
Sean Penn, left, meets with Israeli president Shimon Peres

During his first-ever visit to Israel Monday, two-time Academy Award winner Sean Penn attended the “Can Haiti Grow?” conference in Tel Aviv presented by IsraAID and the Pratt Foundation, to speak on his NGO’s humanitarian relief work.

Penn (whose father is Jewish) is the founder of the J/P Haitian Relief Organization, which was launched in 2010 in response to the Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake in Haiti.

“Our mission was to spend a few weeks in Haiti as a 24/7 delivery service for drugs for the hospitals that needed them,” Penn, the event’s keynote speaker, told attendees Monday, detailing his initial visit to Haiti following the earthquake that left between 230,000 to 316,000 dead.

The J/P Haitian Relief Organization quickly became a key provider of long-term relief to victims in the area. During its work, the NGO collaborated with Israeli humanitarian aid agency IsraAID, including on a child education centre in a Port-au-Prince refugee camp. IsraAID was reportedly in Haiti some four days after the catastrophe occurred.

During the Tel Aviv conference, Penn lauded IsraAID for its “inspiration” and humanitarian efforts.

“They became mentors in moving forward,” Penn said. “Their logistics was just more sound, and sincerity in purpose was more complete. The indirect impact of IsraAID is that everything that JP/HRO has accomplished would not have existed without the inspiration and support that they provided.”

Former Israeli Ambassador to Washington Michael Oren (of Israel’s Kulanu party) also spoke at the event. “Organizations like IsraAID combine [both] the spirit of the Jewish people and serving humanity – it is the ultimate symbiosis between the two,” Oren said.

Oren also thanked Penn directly for his NGO’s work in Haiti, reports the Jerusalem Post.

“You were the first around, you provided vital medical supplies to people, you began the process of rebuilding,” he said. “It wasn’t as if your job was done and you just went somewhere else – you made a commitment to the people of Haiti. We share that goal.”

“As a member of the Jewish people, I say to you, toda raba. Thank you.”

Penn, who learned of the power of NGOs after his relief work during Hurricane Katrina, encouraged “everyone in the room” to visit Haiti.

“It’s a special place and it’s such a doable enterprise,” he said. “This is not rocket science. It’s an hour and a half from Miami Beach…it is sitting there full of talent and energy. We started, IsraAID started, I’d like you all to start.”

While in Israel, Penn also met with former Israeli president Shimon Peres at the Shimon Peres Peace Centre in Jaffa.