Christmas Across the Miles, Ottawa Citizen, December 23, 1998

Video program unites Vanier seniors with children in France
By Tony Lofaro

The holiday season is a time that often brings people closer together. Thanks to technology, two groups on opposite sides of the Atlantic were able to share Christmas Eve together - without ever having to board a plane.

Seniors, from the Centre d'accueil Champlain nursing home in Vanier, and children, in France, were connected via a transatlantic video link. The videoconferencing allowed the group to not only chat to each other but to be entertained by the same puppet show troupe.

A French theatrical troupe performed for the children, who are in an extended care facility in Margency, a small town 50 kilometres north of Paris,. Two large televisions screens set up at the nursing home had simultaneously broadcast the 50 minute show via videoconferencing to about 30 francophone seniors. After the show, the seniors and children were able to exchange comments about the puppets and talk about Christmas traditions in both countries.

"The purpose of this is to promote links between seniors and young people so it can transform their lives," says Dr. Marie-Madeleine Bernard, president of PACE2000 International Foundation, an Ottawa-based company that helps set up similar video conferences around the world.

"We want to bridge the gap between seniors and students by using video-conferencing."

She said the experience was enriching one for the French children because they were not be able to go home for Christmas, she said. The children at the hospital, many of whom are dealing with caner treatments, range in age from two to eight years of age.

A similar project was does earlier this year with students at Stanford University in San Francisco, she said.

The videoconferencing program is sponsored in part by the federal government and also by several companies, including the Communications Research Centre, France Telecom and Bell Canada.

The event, began at 11 a.m. and was open to the public. A light lunch was served at a cost of $3. For more information, call 1(613)722-7400.

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