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Local Film Chronicles Haiti's Healthcare Crisis

Miami Herald, The (FL)
2005-02-10
Section: Metro & State
Edition: Final
Page: 3B


JACQUELINE CHARLES, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Her first encounter with Haiti's inadequate healthcare came in a remote rural village where even curable maladies like diarrhea, malnutrition and tuberculosis kill.

Miami Beach philanthropist Kimberly Green became inspired as she filmed a group of Haitian-American doctors from Miami treat everything from the common cold to HIV/AIDS in a country where 60 percent of the eight million people do not have drinkable water. ``I fell in love with what they were doing,'' said Green, 33, the president of the Green Family Foundation, who spent three years making a documentary about Haiti's healthcare crisis that will premier tonight during the 22nd Miami International Film Festival.

TAKING THE TIME

``Seeing doctors who otherwise are living in one of the most vain cities in the country, who could be making a living off plastic surgeries, take time out of their lives to participate in this project was amazing.''

The film, Once There was a Country: Revisiting Haiti, chronicles the healthcare plight of Haitian peasants in a country beset by poverty and political strife. Among them are the Sonsons, a family of eight who are suffering from crippling tuberculosis, and LaRochelle, a young Haitian man ostracized by his family after they learned he was HIV-positive.

Through their experiences, the 55-minute English- and Creole-language film examines the challenges Haitians in villages like Thomonde, a dirt road town in the central plateau region, face as they struggle to get medical care.

It looks at how Vodun has become an integral role in Haitian life - and a substitute for medical care - and how poverty affects recovery in a country where there is just one doctor for every 10,000 residents.

`I HAVE TO BEG'

``I'm so depressed. I am so young. I have to beg,'' LaRochelle says in the film, which is narrated by poet and author Maya Angelou and her son, Guy Johnson.

As they narrate LaRochelle's plight, both also tell the story of countless sick Haitians whose road to a healthy recovery is often threatened by their need to travel to places like the neighboring Dominican Republic to cut sugar cane to earn money to eat.

``Even the best medical facilities in the world are not sufficient without paying attention to people's social conditions,'' Johnson says.

But there is hope, the film argues, in programs like Project Medishare, a medical mission affiliated with the University of Miami that takes medical students and doctors to Thomonde.

``One voice, one person can help others make a difference,'' said Green, whose foundation began funding Project Medishare shortly after she started working on the documentary. ``Haiti is not an isolated incident, and yet the specifics of it are so important to realize.''

FUNDRAISER SHOWING

In addition to tonight's showing, the film will be shown Sunday and on Feb. 20 as part of a fundraiser the Coral Gables Congregational Church plans on behalf of Project Medishare.

``I hope people leave having a better understanding of Haiti and all of the circumstances that have put it in the situation it is in,'' said Ellen Powers, executive director of Project Medishare who has worked in Haiti for 15 years and is featured in the film. ``There is hope, it's not just some black hole.''

SMART BOX

NOW SHOWING

Once There was a Country: Revisiting Haiti will be screened at 6 p.m. today at the University of Miami's Bill Cosford Cinema. Call 305-284-4861 for directions. The film also will be shown at 4 p.m. Sunday at Regal Cinemas, 1100 Lincoln Rd., Miami Beach.

* Film Festival tickets are $11; $10 for seniors; $9 for Miami Film Society members; $7 for students (unless otherwise indicated). Call 305-237-3456 or visit miamifilmfestival.com

* The film also will be shown at 7 p.m. Feb. 20 at Coral Gables Congregational Church, 3010 Desoto Blvd., as part of a fundraiser for Project Medishare. Cost $25. Call 305-757-9555 for more information.