Oscar winner Sean Penn could be living comfortably in California, but for half his time he trades comfort for a tiny plywood cubicle not wider than a prison cell in a Haiti group home for aid workers where he's committed to helping victims of a 2010 earthquake, he tells Charlie Rose in an interview for the CBS News special PERSON TO PERSON to be broadcast Nov. 23, 2012 (10:00 PM ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. Get a preview below!
Penn was moved to help Haiti after seeing a January 2010 news report on the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that devastated the country. At the time he had just gone through a divorce from Robin Wright Penn and uncertain what he would do next. He was horrified by the Civil War-like medical techniques being used on victims. "Here's an aspirin and now I'm gonna cut your arm off with a hardware store hacksaw," he recalls. "That was happening."
Previously, his son had suffered a traumatic brain injury and Penn remembered how morphine helped alleviate the pain. He couldn't imagine the suffering of those in Haiti without it. "And something just clicked," Penn tells Rose. "Haiti earthquake, amputations on children and others with no IV medications. And the joke I've always made is that an actor in Hollywood knows where to find narcotics, but not bulk narcotics."
Penn called well-connected friends for what he thought would be a short mission to Haiti to deliver medicine and medical personnel. What resulted would be a life-changing effort to help others in ways he never could have imagined.
"When you look down a city block of devastation and you see the pain and the death, you feel like, I can fix this," he says of his first impressions. He realized it was bigger than that after taking a helicopter tour. "It wasn't about fixing it anymore; it was about helping as much as you could."
In the first year he rarely left Haiti. Penn created the Haitian Relief Organization he's named J/P HRO, which now provides free medical services to about 8,000 patients a month. He's also launching schools, a community center and hiring Haitians to build homes to replace their damaged ones.