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UF journalism students in Haiti are safe, trying to get home

Valerie Safiullin can finally get some rest.

He spent sleepless nights since Tuesday's earthquake in Haiti, worrying about his son.

Roman Safiullin of Fort Lauderdale, and Jon Bougher of New Hampshire, University of Florida graduate journalism students, went to Port-au-Prince Saturday to gather material for their thesis documentary film.

Family, friends and UF officials were anxiously awaiting word from them after the earthquake. Finally, some good news came Thursday: Roman and Jon were safe and on their way home.

It was a rare moment of happiness in a flood of miserable news emerging from Haiti.

At about 2 p.m., Safiullin called his father to tell him that he and Bougher were at the airport in Port-Au-Prince waiting for a flight, though they didn't know when they would reach the U.S.

"I heard his voice and I was ... relieved," he said. "I feel so tired after these two days."

He expected them to spend Thursday night at the crowded airport.

Roman's mother lives in Russia, he said, and had called almost every hour to check in.

The students' are shooting a documentary about Planting Peace, a nonprofit organization that operates four orphanages in Port-au-Prince, among other missions.

With communication difficult at best in Haiti, word that the students were safe took a circuitous route.

UF officials first got word from Aaron Jackson, the president of Planting Peace, who was in the U.S. at the time. Jackson got the news from a woman who spoke briefly by phone with Jackson's Planting Peace partner, John Dieubon, in Haiti.

The students were documenting Dieubon's work with underprivileged orphans in Port-au-Prince.

Jackson said the film project took the students to Haiti at least three times. The organization's four orphanages, which house about 40 children, were also unharmed by Tuesday's earthquake, he said.

"I'm very relieved," Jackson said.

The documentary institute, part of the UF College of Journalism and Communications, was a victim of multimillion-dollar budget cuts in 2008. Safiullin and Bougher are part of its final class, slated to graduate in April, said Churchill Roberts, the institute's co-director.

The institute will relocate to Wake Forest University.

Whether the students shot footage of the earthquake is unknown, Roberts said.

UF journalism students in Haiti are safe, trying to get home 01/14/10 [Last modified: Friday, January 15, 2010 10:39am]
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