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Penn helping hand for Haiti victims

Hollywood actor Sean Penn is helping out with earthquake relief efforts in Haiti.

As well as getting his hands dirty on the ground, he lobbied the chief of UN peacekeeping operations to provide better security for the camp's 45,000 people.

"These people are going to have nowhere to go, by and large, in the rainy season," he said. "The efforts that we've seen ... have been extraordinary - down the line. But this is an impossible kind of situation."

The 49-year-old actor came to Haiti about a week after the January 12 quake killed a government-estimated 230,000 people and made 1.3 million homeless.

He's left just a few times since - mostly for Haiti-related meetings, he said, and to present the Oscar for best actress - and doesn't plan to leave again until mid-April. His blue-shirted workers with the newly formed Jenkins-Penn Haiti Relief Organisation provide medical care, water filters and food.

On Sunday, they opened a health clinic for mothers and victims of a growing sexual assault epidemic.

"As long as this camp is here, we'll stay here. When this camp's not here anymore then we'll have to be where we are accessible to people," Penn said.

The ridge where the group is based is a short but taxing walk uphill from an increasingly fetid sprawl of makeshift tarp-and-tent homes. Thousands of families came to the valley golf course in the days after the quake, following the US Army's 82nd Airborne Division and its food distributions onto the steep country club grounds.

The group got a major boost in a visit by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. He toured the facilities with Penn and actress-turned-aid worker Maria Bello - best known among the thinning crowd of US soldiers for her turn in Coyote Ugly.

Penn had never been to Haiti before. "It was just, you know, I saw 10 minutes of news and we started organising. I don't think that anybody who hasn't been in places like this really understands what poverty is, and what a real lack of infrastructure is," he said.

© Press Association