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Nobel laureates honor Sean Penn

By Moni Basu, CNN
updated 9:34 AM EDT, Wed March 21, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Sean Penn will receive the Peace Summit Award for his relief work in Haiti
  • Penn founded an aid agency after the devastating 2010 earthquake
  • The Oscar winner says the Nobel recognition is an honor

(CNN) -- In Haiti, actor Sean Penn brushed aside mockery in the media for his penchant for taking up causes. Someone, he said, had to do something after the devastating earthquake.

Now he's being recognized for his efforts. Penn will be presented with the 2012 Peace Summit Award next month during the annual meeting of Nobel Peace Prize laureates.

Every year, the Nobel Laureates honor a cultural or entertainment personality who has promoted peace and stood up for human rights.

The laureates are honoring Penn's work in 2010, when he left Hollywood glamor behind and set up shop on the slopes of a private golf club in Port-au-Prince, where thousands of homeless Haitians sought shelter under makeshift tents.

Sean Penn talks about his work in Haiti
Penn: Rebuilding Haiti will help America

The charitable organization he founded, J/P Haitian Relief Organization, managed the camp of 50,000 people, helping with food, sanitation and health care.

He insisted then that he would be there for the long haul; that he was more than a celebrity goodwill ambassador who dropped in to smile with orphaned kids for a day.

"Pretty soon, we were managing a camp," he said in 2010. "Then you find you are filling a gap and you feel responsibility to keep going."

His aid agency is still in Haiti, working, it says, to lift Haiti out of poverty.

The Oscar-winning Penn, star of "Dead Man Walking," "Mystic River" and "Milk," said he was grateful to be honored by the Nobel laureates.

"It's difficult to properly respond to this while avoiding cliche," he said. "I'm thrilled to receive this tribute and to represent it to the youth of Haiti, the strong women of Haiti, and of the world.

"Many in my generation know cowardice well, but not the youth, and not the women. And never the Haitians," he said.

Haiti was hardly Penn's first humanitarian endeavor, though it was arguably his most ambitious project to date.

A few years back, he traveled to Iraq and Iran and wrote about both countries for the San Francisco Chronicle.

He was in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina -- his right arm bears a tattoo that says: "NOLA, Deliver Me."

His presence in Haiti and all those other places drew skepticism from those who think that celebrities use tragedies to burnish their public images.

But Penn moved forward, undeterred, with his relief work in Haiti.

Past winners of the Peace Summit Award include musician Bob Geldof and actor and director Roberto Benigni.

The Chicago summit in April will bring together Nobel laureates from 17 nations.

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