For Jason Derulo, Hurricane Dorian hit close to home.
The musician, 30, was raised in Miami and his parents, Joel and Jocelyne Desrouleaux, are from Haiti. When September’s Category 5 storm hit the Bahamas and ripped through Haitian immigrant settlements, he wanted to help.
“When I first heard about the storm, I was shocked looking at the footage on television,” Derulo tells PEOPLE. “I wanted to get over there as soon as I could.”
“It’s my roots — being from Miami and being of Haitian descent.”
Derulo traveled to the Bahamas on Oct. 5 and 6 with volunteers from CORE, Sean Penn’s relief organization, and his own foundation, Just For You. The two organizations partnered for the singer’s trip, where he visited CORE recovery programs, clearing debris and spending time at Haitian settlements.
“I feel like people don’t know exactly how bad it is,” says Derulo. “When you think about the Bahamas, you don’t really think about devastation. You don’t think about it being a place where anything negative can happen because all you think of is paradise. Everything is gone. It’s surreal and it reminds you of a movie, like what the apocalypse looks like.”
“What I do for a living — being able to sing and have this career that I love and have so much fun — is one thing. But I feel like my platform was created for a specific purpose: to help those in need,” says Derulo.
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While there, Derulo had the chance to witness the storm’s devastation up close, and spoke with kids he encountered on the street.
“I just started asking questions and I wanted to see what their day-to-day was like. There’s no school right now, there’s no regular life. That really hit home for me,” he says.
The strength Bahamians have demonstrated in moving forward made a lasting impression on him.
“The work is nowhere near done,” says Derulo. “But their mentality is not about being upset about what happened.”
“It’s about ‘How do we get up?’ As opposed to ‘Everything is gone.’ It’s inspiring.”