There have been no reports of injury or death among AU students, alumni, faculty or staff due to the tsunami that devastated Southeast Asia, though some were in the region at the time of the disaster. To help the hundreds of thousands of people who lost their homes and possessions, some AU students and faculty have combined resources to contribute to relief efforts for those in India, Thailand, Indonesia and Sri Lanka, where the tsunami took more than 150,000 lives.
Students from inside and outside the affected region, the campus ministry, athletics and the administration hope to raise tens of thousands of dollars over the next few weeks as a gesture of aid and solidarity.
Purti Bali, a junior in the School of International Service who was born in India, said that while she was not directly affected by the tsunami, at least one member of AU’s South Asian Student Association was. Bali, who is co-president of the SASA, said the group is planning fund-raising opportunities and will coordinate with SHARE, Students Helping Asian Relief Efforts. Gunjan Koul, a senior in SIS, founded the group a few days after the tsunami hit.
The South Asian Student Association is trying to organize a fund-raising party with Georgetown University to feature the South Asian comedian Russell Peters.
“A part of the profit that SASA will receive from the party will be donated to SHARE,” Bali wrote in an e-mail.
SHARE volunteers will table around campus and basketball games, and will give bracelets made of twine and a blue bead to whoever donates money. SHARE’s main fund-raising drive will be the week of Jan. 24, when SHARE will be present at sports events, on campus and in other arenas.
Yesterday Bon Appetit allowed students to donate one meal from their meal plan to SHARE. Also, the Red Cross at AU will combine the money it raises with SHARE’s raised funds, according to President Ian Sterne. Sterne stressed in a SHARE meeting on Monday that victims need money and clean water the most.
Student Activities will also support the “ad hoc group,” according to Gail Hanson, vice president of the Office of Campus Life.
Campus Life responded to the tsunami in a few ways: e-mailing students from the region, putting up information about relief organizations on the AU Web site and advising students on ways to assist, Hanson said in an e-mail.
“Our staff will continue to support and coordinate student initiatives as they unfold over the next few weeks,” Hanson said.
She added that AU is familiar with relief work, citing the Community Service Center and the Office of the Chaplain as groups involved in “assistance organized to help Grenada recover from hurricane devastation,” referring to the relief effort after Hurricane Ivan hit Grenada in September 2004.
University Chaplain Joe Eldridge noted that “there was a lot of energy invested in responding to the hurricane in Grenada” and he wants to see “if there is any meaning (or any messages about our human condition) that can be drawn from [the tsunami] tragedy,” he said in an e-mail.
Eldridge participated in a service at Kay Spiritual Life Center to remember the victims of the tsunami on Wednesday at 7 p.m.
Polson Kanneth, president of the Student Confederation, praised Koul and the administration, saying that he was moved by AU’s response.
“As the SC, we need to do something,” he said. “Although the SC can’t provide money, we can offset costs.”
To that end, the SC is helping coordinate an umbrella group, providing logistical support, an Eagle advertisement, room reservations and overhead costs. The SC is still finalizing the exact amount of money it will give, according to Kanneth.
“We don’t want recognition for what we’re doing. We just want to help people out,” he said.
When the tsunami struck, Saji Prelis, a 2001 AU graduate, was in Sri Lanka, where he had planned on going to the beach, but ended up watching a cricket game. The devastation was total, “like a big hand smashing down on the beach,” Prelis said. (His experience is chronicled in the accompanying article.)
Prelis left Sri Lanka on Dec. 27, but adopted a village that he is attempting to restore with AU contributions. Eldridge cited Prelis as an individual who is “making a huge difference through…personal efforts.”
“It seems to me that we should all remain vigilant about suffering whereever [sic] it occurs and seek to respond with solidarity and love,” he said.
The tsunami has become the focus of international donations and nearly $1 billion has been pledged, including $350 million from the United States. The disaster happened on Dec. 26 when an underwater earthquake triggered the tsunami
-Eagle Staff Writers Kate Oczypok and Joseph Popiolkowski contributed to this story.