PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Haiti's Petionville Club was once frequented by the elite of the elite, but now it's a refugee camp for tens of thousands of the more than 1 million Haitians made homeless by the Jan. 12 earthquake.
The crowded capital's greenest spot is a rainbow of multicolored tents, tarps, bed sheets, and cardboard. The grass of the former golf course is virtually unrecognizable, with trucks transporting food, water, hygiene kits and building material leaving tracks four inches deep in the mud that blankets the area.
However, an influential group of another nature has replaced the Haitian elite.
Just after the quake, movie star-activist Sean Penn set up camp, and he's been working side-by-side with hundreds of volunteers ever since.
Pop star Shakira stopped by the camp briefly Sunday while in the country looking for suitable land for her Barefoot Foundation to finance the construction of a new school for poor children in Port-au-Prince.
Penn, wearing clothes that are virtually indistinguishable from all the other members of the Jenkins-Penn Haitian Relief Organization who're helping to organize the camp, is all business. Many of the people he's helping, however, don't know who he is.
They know Shakira from her music video with Wyclef Jean, a Haitian Grammy Award-winning artist who performed "Hips Don't Lie" with the Colombian artist at the World Cup several years ago and smiled when they heard of her visit on Sunday.
"Shakira wouldn't come without a reason," said 16-year-old fan Dougeny Dupuy, who's seen Shakira's music videos but has never heard of Penn. "I'm just not sure what that reason is."
Haitian refugee Patrick Gerville, whose tent is packed with mud from the rains that have drenched the capital the last three nights, knows both Penn and Shakira.
"But they are up there," he said, pointing to the top of the hill. "And I am down here."
Gerville is slated to move this week, and Monday's agenda for Penn's JPHRO was moving people from the congested, flood-prone Petionville camp to a new area designated by the government about 44 miles north of the capital. The JPHRO has been ferrying people in four air-conditioned buses, four times a day, to the new settlement.
Radio in hand, Penn was trying to make sure the relocation went smoothly. One little boy who looked to be about five was unhappy about the move, even though it's voluntary.
"It's a good thing," Penn said through a translator. "Talk to your mom; she'll tell you that."
The boy shook his head, unconvinced.
Despite the conditions, many don't want to leave their friends, neighbors and all that's familiar, even if it's a pile of debris, a flimsy tent or a leaky tarp.
The JPHRO is financing a cash-for-work project to deal with the runoff from all the rain. Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Jacob Bronson oversees a crew of 20 building a wall to prevent landslides and digging drainage ditches.
He watched Shakira walk through the camp for about 10 minutes on Sunday.
"She gave them hugs," he said, "and I think that also gave them hope."
They'll need more than that, though. Meteorologists from AccuWeather.com are forecasting several inches of rain across much of Haiti this week, making a tough situation even tougher as the rainy season looms.
Klarreich is a Christian Science Monitor correspondent.
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