Sean Penn, Christina Aguilera, and dozens of other stars aren't afraid to put aside their megawatt careers to spend time giving back in places like Haiti and Africa. However, their goodwill gestures don't extend much beyond the camera lens, according to a scathing new expose in the UK Guardian. Written by a secret aid worker, the tell-all goes into detail (and names names) when revealing how celebrities use and abuse aid workers during humanitarian missions around the world.
United Nations Special Envoy Angelina Jolie earns high marks from those aid workers quoted in the article, mostly because she always manages to do her homework on the countries and people she visits. "She knew more about refugees, and had been to more places than I had," one of Jolie's former UNHCR colleagues recalled in the article. "She had her own cameraman, so all I had to do was find the locations and the refugees." Agreed another person who worked with Jolie, 40: "I was impressed with her in Haiti, in Jordan and in Sri Lanka. She left experts speechless every time.'
Orlando Bloom and Matt Dillon are also known to pull their weight abroad, so much so that aid workers don't even realize there's a celebrity at camp. During frequent visits to Sierra Leone, soccer hunk David Beckham insists he has time on his schedule to kick around a ball with local kids, said the aid worker.
While Brad Pitt's wife escaped the expose unscathed, other notable stars like Penn, 54, and Aguilera, 34, aren't looked on as fondly. "In Haiti, in the UN base where most of the first responders lived, one agency outraged the entire base by taking over the only air conditioned tent — in which some slept due to the sauna-like conditions in the accommodation area — to host a cocktail reception for Christina Aguilera," the anonymous writer recalled.
"I vividly remember a colleague, in boxers and a T-shirt, arguing vociferously with [Aguilera's] bouncers, who told him that not only was he not allowed in, but he was inappropriately dressed for the local culture. The irony of telling off someone for not wearing enough clothes when your day job is guarding a woman whose career was largely built on not wearing enough clothes was apparently lost on them."
Then there was that unnamed celeb who had far too much to drink after-hours in South Sudan. "I remember a night in a South Sudanese dive bar with a visiting internationally fancied film star," a friend of the writer recalled. “He was blind drunk and when we went over to talk to him he started lecturing me about not knowing about South Sudan. ‘I mean, no offense, but how long have you actually been here?' he asked. I said, 'Over three years now.' Him: (while creepily stroking my arm) 'I really love aid workers.'"
One of Hollywood's most visible humanitarians, Penn initially ruffled feathers at a camp in Haiti working for his J/P HRO Haitian Relief Organization. Penn was "camp manager [who] was initially known for turning up at UN meetings and yelling at those present that if they didn't do what he said he'd name them personally on CNN as holding up the relief effort," recalled a former colleague. Later, Penn was praised for his decision to "calm down — and learn his trade."
That's not to say the aid worker with an axe to grind isn't grateful for the celebrity helping hands in impoverished countries. The writer even goes so far as to say everyone should witness a disaster once in their lives, as a humbling experience. "Come. Bear witness. Listen, and learn. Seek to understand why these things are a blight and a challenge to the entire world," the Guardian expose concludes. "How they can inspire and transform as well as destroy. It's the only way anyone can begin to understand what it really means to call yourself a humanitarian."
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