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High-Tech Charity Effort Helps Haitian Quake Survivors

Clothilde Derosier talks to her family members in Port-au-Prince, Haiti via high definition teleconference at Notre Dame d'Haiti Catholic church in Little Haiti, 7 Apr 2010
Clothilde Derosier talks to her family members in Port-au-Prince, Haiti via high definition teleconference at Notre Dame d'Haiti Catholic church in Little Haiti, 7 Apr 2010

Snyder seems like a normal, happy three-year-old. Around his torso is a white plastic brace that he is required to wear as he heals after hours-long surgery for a broken back. He sustained the injury when a block of cement from his home fell on the bed where he was resting during the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that devastated his homeland on January 12. 

Snyder laughs and plays with two muscular men he considers to be new playmates - after all they've just given him a cap and football to play with. He is playing catch and has no idea these guys are NFL stars: Miami Dolphins football players Jason Ferguson and Reggie Torbor.

Seated next to him, mom Clothilde Derosier, 25, is grateful for the gifts and thrilled at the opportunity to see and talk to family members she left behind in February, when she was flown out of Haiti to accompany her seriously injured son.  

In front of her is a huge flat-screen monitor adorned with an HD (high definition) video camera that allows her mom, dad, sister, brother and grandfather to see her too. They are smiling and seem as concerned about how she is living in the United States as she is about their living conditions in the devastated Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince.

Clothilde's reunion is one of many planned for this week, thanks to a joint effort by the Miami Dolphins Foundation, the University of Miami Global Institute and Project Medishare for Haiti.  Executive producer David Saltz of ABC television says he's worked on this project since the beginning of the year and is thrilled it has accomplished more than he ever imagined.

David Saltz with Haitian earthquake survivor Nathana Gerome, 13, 7 Apr 2010
David Saltz with Haitian earthquake survivor Nathana Gerome, 13, 7 Apr 2010

"Today when Jason Ferguson and Reggie from the Dolphins came down and gave this little three-year-old boy a football, you know, that changed his life. That touched him in a way that we'll never know the impact of that," Saltz said. "Him being lit up like that, wearing his hat, getting signatures from important sports personalities in America - that touched him in a deep way."

The technology used to reconnect Haitian families was originally designed to help doctors diagnose and communicate with patients over long distances. Quake victims sit in a room at the Notre Dame D'Haiti church in Little Haiti, while family members gather in a similarly equipped room set up at the Project Medishare field hospital facility at a military air base in Port-au-Prince.

During her 20-minute conversation, Clothilde discussed the whereabouts of her one-year-old son, Youri, whom she left behind and hopes to reunite with soon. She says she's relieved now that she's seen and spoken with her family.

Clothilde Derosier, 25, with son Snyder, 3, after the teleconference at Notre Dame d'Haiti Catholic church in Little Haiti, 7 Apr 2010
Clothilde Derosier, 25, with son Snyder, 3, after the teleconference at Notre Dame d'Haiti Catholic church in Little Haiti, 7 Apr 2010

"I was thrilled to see my father, my uncle, my cousins, my mom, but even though I was happy to see them - since I hadn't since February 1," she said.  "But on the other hand I don't feel good knowing that I'm here where I can eat and drink, I have clothes, shoes, perfume, creams.... everything is taken care of, I'm not sure how much all that costs - meanwhile my family sometimes goes hungry, they have nothing to eat."

Clothilde's family encouraged her to stay in the United States, get an education, and be successful - perhaps study nursing.  

"Haiti is not a place now where you can prosper and have the freedoms that you have in America, so for us to be able to open those doors I think has been a great part of the program and we plan to keep it going," Saltz noted. "It's a remarkable experience that uses this technology and this wonderous ability that we've achieved for such great things....You know our whole world now has become so backwards in all the negative things that are promoted through technology - whether it's bad news and disasters like Haiti or it's things that are so unimportant in our world about celebrity news and private relations and affairs - this is something that's so positive."

Miami Dolphins Jason Ferguson, left, and Reggie Torbor with Haiti earthquake survivor Snyder, 3 in Little Haiti, 7 Apr 2010
Miami Dolphins Jason Ferguson, left, and Reggie Torbor with Haiti earthquake survivor Snyder, 3 in Little Haiti, 7 Apr 2010

Dolphins' Ferguson says it meant a lot to him to participate in the reunion.

"It was amazing to see families getting joined together like that, and knowing you haven't seen your loved ones in so long, and all of a sudden you're provided with a chance to see them and talk to them - I just think that's amazing and just being around them I think it's really touching to see that to see that," he said.

Torbor echoed that sentiment, adding that it also provided a refreshing contrast to his normal routine.

"It was humbling. Just in our lives we kind of live in a box so to speak, and you have your issues and things going on and to just come here and see that she [Clothilde] can't find her one-year-old child and hasn't seen her parents and things like that, you know it just makes a soft spot.  But yet to see that they're so happy and so thankful for everything that they have," said Torbor.  "No one over there is sad. All they can talk about is how happy they are for their daughter and that she came to the United States. That's not something you see in our society a lot."

Executive producer Saltz says each session includes a celebrity appearance.  The inaugural teleconference on Easter Sunday, which reunited a young girl critically injured in the earthquake with her family, featured Prakazrel "Pras" Michel Jean, a member of the Fugees musical group. He travelled to Haiti the following day, according to Saltz to visit the Medishare project.

Saltz says Sun Life stadium and the Miami Dolphins plan to keep the system available indefinitely for families thanks to the "generous" support of Cisco.

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