Children were left parentless. Entire towns were wiped out. In one horrific moment, over 150,000 people lost their lives and mill-ions more were left homeless when a massive tsunami hit the coastlines of South Asia. Amid the overwhelming tragedy, the world-and UM-has responded with relief efforts.
Vithya Balasubramaniam, sophomore, witnessed the devastation as it occurred in Sri Lanka. Balasubramaniam was on a volunteer trip to work in orphanages in areas that were war-torn from 20 years of civil war.
“On Dec. 26, around noon, about three hours after the tsunamis hit, we were driving toward the coast and a tractor stopped in front of me and I saw dead bodies in it,” Balasubramaniam said.
She was originally told that there was a bit of a flood, and it wasn’t until the next morning when she was watching BBC that the tsunami had hit all of South Asia and parts of Africa.
“We spent the next two days going to the displacement centers donating supplies and basically listening to what they had to say to us-how the water came up to them, how they lost their families,” she said. “Listening to them was the hardest part because you couldn’t tell him it’s all going to be OK because you really don’t know.”
Balasubramaniam realizes that she could have been directly hit by the tsunamis had she left earlier in the day.
“I think I got lucky for a reason, and I’m very thankful that I was there are the time to help people, to listen to their stories and to tell people here,” she said. “They basically have nothing and who knows how long that’s going to last.”
Relief initiatives have already begun at UM, with students and administration stepping forward to aid in the efforts. Approximately 80 UM students are from the affected areas, and all of them were contacted immediately after the tragedy.
“I sent out an email to all international students to let them know that we were here to support them, especially if they were having trouble re-entering the U.S.,” Teresa de la Guardia, director of International Student and Scholar Services, said. “We wanted to offer our support right away. I did get a couple of emails back from students saying that they appreciated that we were reaching out.”
Administration is encouraging a collaborative effort from the UM community.
“One important thing is really helping students who want to coordinate fundraising efforts rather than lots of little events that might not be as successful,” Pat Whitely, vice president of Student Affairs, said. “The administration will work with students who want to raise money and help in any way we can.”
The Council of International Students and Organizations [COISO] is dedicating the semester to raising money for tsunami victims.
“COISO should take a leading role because we represent the international student body and those affected by the disaster,” Ciara Mohamed, COISO president, said. “I hope that we, along with the rest of the University, can coordinate an outstanding relief effort.”
Both Balasubramaniam and Sanjeev Chatterjee, a resident master at Eaton who also traveled to the region, said that it’s very important to pay attention to where the money donated is going.
“The issue is in the long run how do you bring back these people on their feet. People who have survived have only the shirts on their backs. They have lost their identities,” Chatterjee said. “Support the organizations that are invested in the long term.”
“It’s going to take years and years to rebuild what they had. All the donations that are going to UNICEF and the Red Cross are coming from us,” Balasubramaniam said. “If that money stops, then the relief stops. Donating once isn’t enough. Just don’t stop.”
>> There will be an open mic event to raise money for the tsunami tragedy all day Feb. 3 on the UC Patio. The proceeds will go to the Red Cross International Relief Fund.
Megha Garg can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.