On Sunday night I had the great opportunity of attending The Artists for Peace and Justice Festival Gala held at Casa Loma in Toronto – a fundraising event in support of community development in Haiti. This great organization was started by the screenwriter and director Paul Haggis, who, is not only an Oscar-winner, but is actually the only person to have ever won two Best Film Oscars back-to-back (first for Million Dollar Baby and second for Crash). In addition to being a very big Hollywood deal, he’s Canadian, and an amazing advocate, fundraiser, and champion for development in Haiti. The organization he started, the Artists for Peace and Justice, is truly remarkable. Not only does it rally the support of some pretty serious Hollywood heavy hitters (Ben Stiller, Olivia Wilde, James Franco, Penelope Cruz, Pierce Brosnan and Nicole Kidman to name a few) it also ensures that 100% of all public donations go directly to Haiti. Not all charities are able to boast a fact like that.
Being invited to this event was a huge honour as Haiti is a country very close to my heart. In February of 2010, two weeks after the country was hit by that catastrophic earthquake, I went there with 5 members of my staff to perform emergency reconstructive plastic surgery on the victims in need. To say it was a life changing experience would be an egregious understatement.
About a week before the event was to be held, I got an e-mail from one of the organizers looking for more volunteers. I immediately forwarded the message to my entire staff, knowing that many would jump at the opportunity. Not only could they support a great cause they were already connected to, but they could also meet some pretty big celebrities in attendance: Madeleine Stowe, George Stroumboulopoulos (who was the evening’s MC), Ben & Jessica Mulroney, and of course, Paul Haggis, were all in attendance. Sue and Lori volunteered – two nurses who came with me on our surgical relief mission in 2010, plus Tanya, Sue’s husband Rob, Clarissa, Nikki and Cindy. I was so proud to see them in their AJP t-shirts helping out and doing their thing, and the organizing team was enormously grateful for their efforts.
It was a seriously amazing night. We raised $1.5 million that will go primarily towards education in Haiti’s poorest communities. I was lucky enough to meet Madeleine Stowe, who is more personable, beautiful, and gracious than you could ever imagine, and Paul Haggis, a man whose courage and brilliance is unmistakable. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little star-struck. There were performances by The National, Stacey Kay and the Arkells who were all awesome. If you’d like to know more about AJP or want to get involved, check out their site: http://www.apjnow.org/the-need/