Page last updated at 18:36 GMT, Wednesday, 3 February 2010

BBC reunites family split by Haiti quake

By Henri Astier
BBC News, Miami

Simone Macary (Photo: Catherine Murphy / The World)
Ms Macary had been trying to fly to Haiti, but could not get a flight

The BBC's Creole-language programme in Haiti has helped reunite a Haitian-American mother with her son in the quake-devastated capital, Port-au-Prince.

Simone Macary, who lives in Boston, Massachusetts, had not heard from her 16-year-old son, Penaisse, since last month's earthquake. He was in Haiti studying.

But when Penaisse texted his mother's phone number to the Koneksyon Ayiti (Connexion Haiti) programme, the BBC was able to let her know he was alive.

The two later spoke on the phone for the first time since the 12 January earthquake, which killed at least 150,000 people.

Mother's relief

Koneksyon Ayiti first heard from Penaisse on Sunday, when he sent a text message to the programme's US phone number.

It said: "I am homeless, the person responsible for me is dead, my mother is Simone Macary. She is American but cannot help me. The embassy is closed and I am on the street."

Penaisse gave a number for his mother, but when the BBC called it, it turned out to be the wrong one.

Broadcasting on FM radio daily in Haitian Creole at 0910 local time (1410 GMT), for 20 minutes
Giving up-to-date information about where to get basic services and aid
Also available on satellite and online, and via social media

On Tuesday, Koneksyon Ayiti broadcast a message to Penaisse asking him to resend it. He was listening to the programme and immediately texted the correct number.

When the BBC phoned Simone to tell her Penaisse was alive, she sobbed: "I've been looking for you, my only son! I've have not been able to eat or sleep since the earthquake!"

She told the BBC she had been trying to fly to Haiti, but had not been able to find a flight, and asked the BBC to help find him.

The Koneksyon Ayiti team in Port-au-Prince managed to make contact with Penaisse and interviewed him.

When the programme called Simone and played the interview to her later on Tuesday, she reacted by singing How Great Thou Art while listening to the sound of her son's voice.

On Wednesday, Simone told the BBC she had finally managed to make direct contact with him.

"He's still on the street, but at least he's alive and I know he is going to be OK," she said, adding that she would go to Port-au-Prince on the first available flight.

Penaisse and Simone are among the hundreds of thousands of Haitian family members separated by the earthquake.

The Red Cross has set up a family reunification programme for victims.

The BBC's Creole-language programme is broadcast daily between 0910 and 0930 Haiti time (1410 to 1430 GMT) on six FM relays on the island: Port-au-Prince 89.3 FM; Cap-Haïtien 105.5 FM; Gonaïves 90.5 FM; Las Cayes 106.9 FM; Jacmel 96.9 FM; and Jérémie 92.7 FM.

It is also broadcast on shortwave to the country and will be available on the Canal Satellite Antilles, Caribbean-wide radio and TV satellite network. Online, people can listen to the show on the BBC Caribbean website:

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