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The Web: A Cross-Cultural Bridge

©Judy Vorfeld

Panchito - former asthmatic living in Huixquilucan, MexicoDid you ever think that having a Web site could dramatically change the life of a sick boy living in a tiny Mexican village? And that many other lives could be transformed, as well? Jacques Gesret of Bayonne, France, found a way. He's using the Internet to offer the gift of health to asthmatics all over the world. In so doing, he knows that his ten-year-old son did not die in vain.

This story can only be told because of people who, through the Internet, volunteer time, talent, and money. These volunteers represent the pillars of a cross-cultural bridge. The concept originated with Gesret in 1974, following the death of his asthmatic son, Franck, from a medication overdose. Years later he uses the World Wide Web to spread the news of a simple treatment that now routinely improves the lives of people with asthma.

Franck Gesret, born 1964 - died 1974 from medication overdose Early blueprints of his site began in France following Franck's death. Jacques Gesret vowed to find a way for people with asthma to achieve better health. His dream became reality in 1999 in Huixquilucan, Mexico, with the successful treatment of seven-year-old asthmatic, Panchito and the training of people in Panchito's village who will proved therapy for other asthmatics.

Gesret did voluminous research after his son's death and discovered a simple technique that could save many lives. It involves physical therapy rather than medication, and can easily be learned by lay people. Gesret, who understands many languages, but speaks only French, had no way to reveal the results of his research except through writing articles, books, and letters.

By 1984, his research files were impressive, but in trying to publicize these findings, he found "...difficulties with most ruling medical authorities, rather than with individual doctors, with whom I quite enjoy working. I am willing to defend my work and prove its accuracy, because I consider it a clinical discovery rather than alternative medicine."

He decided to find ways to (1) provide therapy for asthmatics in France, (2) teach people, locally and globally - especially in Third World countries - how to provide physical therapy for asthmatics, and (3) build clinics in some of those countries.

Then came the Internet. "I heard others speak of it," he says, "but it was of no interest, until one day a friend showed me how the Web functioned. My friend challenged me to build a site." Soon, Gesret connected to the Internet. Fifteen days of intensive research followed, and he realized he had a niche. He decided to create a site (, unveil his concept, and see what would happen.

Shortly after installing his browser he found a copy of FrontPage Express and began using it. One month later, March 1998, he opened his site. "It was not very beautiful in relation to others," he says "It was simple, but it was all mine!"

Months sped by as Gesret looked for ways to promote the site. He began searching for volunteers to translate the text into other languages, and he pursued awards and reciprocal links. He constantly scanned sites, looking for good but simple ideas. Between work and time on the Internet, he usually found time for about five hours' sleep each night, a pattern that continues to this day.

Applying for awards paid off in an unusual way. Several design professionals who run award sites took considerable time to help him achieve better design. They went back and forth over weeks and months. Strong critiques from people like Jeff Clark of Internet Brothers and Mic Miller of The Beeline made a significant difference in his site. In nine months, says Gesret, "I redid my site at least ten times, although often my head was spinning." He never considered failure an option.

One day, in Mexico, a man named Francisco discovered the site, e-mailed Gesret, and asked for help for his asthmatic son. Gesret responded, saying he would go to Mexico if Francisco found two people agreeable to being trained as practitioners and 20 people with asthma. That way, he felt his work could have real impact on Francisco's community.

At the same time, a former asthma patient living in the Canary Islands visited the site and saw the request for financial support. The man enthusiastically agreed to sponsor the trip.He contacted Gesret and learned of the need for US $1,000, most for air travel and freight. Local people would provide food, lodging, and transportation while Gesret was in Mexico.

October 1999. Gesret flew to Mexico City, then headed for the village of Huixquilucan, Mexico. He discovered not two, but seven people ready for training. During the week they attended lectures and demonstrations, working with 45 people afflicted with asthma. By Saturday evening the trainees worked efficiently without guidance.

Today, a Mexican child no longer struggles for breath. And because of the support of people brought together through a Web site, coupled with Gesret's determination to help asthmatics with few resources - the bridge from Franck's death to Panchito's life has been built and is now ready for use.

How does Jacques Gesret describe the benefits of having a Web site to deliver a message?

  1. He receives a tremendous number of e-mails from every part of the world: from asthmatics and their families; the academic community; and those willing to volunteer.
  2. Because of the people volunteering time and funds, he's seen his projects grow exponentially.
  3. "I go on 59 years," he says, "but am ready to give all to achieve my dreams ... then, one day, I will be able to say that my son did not die for nothing."

Who says the Web isn't the most incredible way to communicate, especially when combined with patience, hard work, and helpful people?

Note: Click to see a pictorial story of his initial Mexican adventure, and to see a partial list of those who helped make this cross-cultural bridge a reality.

Reach Jacques Gesret at or e-mail him at As of July 2001, the site was presented in eight languages.


This article is part of the Handling Adversity series, by Judy Vorfeld

Mark Brennaman | Lucia Fort | Jacques Gesret | Dorothy Valentine McGinnis

Site design by Cheryl Smith
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