Patricia Arquette: Hands on in Haiti

The Emmy-winning actress discusses her humanitarian work in Haiti. Plus: In our Web-exclusive interview, Arquette opens up about life after 'Medium' and why she has Sean Penn on speed dial

By Margy Rochlin
patricia arquette in haiti photo
Photograph: Mitchell Haaseth

PA: Everyone was asking for this sanitation treatment. To date, we have provided ongoing green sanitation for over 2,000 people a day and we have this long list of people who want us to bring this knowledge to them. We’ve trained many, many people. We’ve done community training on hygiene and sanitation and the correlation with public health.

More: What happened to your shipping container-as-houses idea?

PA: Several times, we were given land that turned out to be in dispute. In Haiti, land ownership is one of the main issues. The main building that held all the titles was destroyed in the earthquake. You can meet someone who says they own the land and they can have a title to the land and it will be signed by a judge. Then all of the sudden, five more people show up with the title for the same land. You run into this real issue where you don’t want to choose a side or even imagine who is on the right side. We’re not there to force our will on the people of Haiti.

More: GiveLove built an orphanage. How did you make that happen?  

PA: We ended up finally finding these great partners: St. Luke’s Hospital and Father Rick Frechette. He’s been working in Haiti for 25 years. They have this complex in Port-au-Prince and they had a little temporary orphanage that [shelters] 170 kids. So we donated a lot of our shipping containers to them. They actually finished the build-out themselves. We wanted to help them, but they have their own crew and wanted to do it themselves. In the same complex, we also built out another orphanage which is for 30 at-risk teenage girls.

More: How big is the GiveLove team?

PA: We have a baby-sized team. It's my friend Rosetta Getty, our program director Alisa Keesey, a fundraising woman named Taylor Choi and we have an accountant.  We have three Haitian employees, a sanitation volunteer from Portugal and then we rotate in kids from all over the world who are getting their master’s degree in sanitation. We’ve had people come from Norway, Costa Rica, Canada, Portugal, America. We have building volunteers that come out and donate their time. We have a little house we rented where all the volunteers stay and we keep rotating people in and out. I try to use my miles whenever possible to get [plane] tickets. We’re very bare bones.

More: My guess is that you’ve never run a nonprofit before. How did you know you’d be good at this?

PA: I have experience being a mom, organizing my own life and my children’s lives. I have limited experience overseeing construction, [but] I’ve always been involved in philanthropy. [Sometimes] it just feels too nebulous to me, donating money to who-knows-where. I come up with my own concepts like, “Hey, let’s adopt a women’s and children’s shelter for abused women for Christmas. We’ll get their Christmas wish lists and we’ll get a Santa and a turkey dinner and be there with the kids and let their moms pass out their presents.” I’ve always been good at finding good people, which I think is a particular skill. I think that maybe that’s my greatest skill.

More: So many celebrities have gone to Haiti. How did you figure out your niche?

PA: When you go to Haiti, you have plenty of options. All of the sudden people will say to you, “Hey, there’s this organization and these kids are in shredded tents and they’re still sleeping on the ground and they’re covered with scabies and have no sanitation, no kitchen, no clean water source and nowhere to sleep.” So you say, “Well, if we have these shipping containers, let’s raise the money and get these kids in bunk beds.” Why do we have to choose one thing? My criteria is that each program be beautiful. And I don’t mean aesthetically beautiful, I mean emotionally beautiful.

More: Define “emotionally beautiful.”

First Published May 31, 2011

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Jhan Palmer07.07.2011

Nice pics......Patricia Arquette is looking so beautiful. I totally guess she is still doing well hands on in Haiti. Thanks!
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