Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Students Support Tsunami Relief

From the northeastern region of Sri Lanka, Brintha Vasagar (COL ’06) bore witness to the aftermath of the chaos and destruction unleashed by the massive December tsunami that devastated much of coastal south Asia and claimed over 150,000 lives.

“Bodies were everywhere,” she said. “Photographers were there before the Red Cross, and people had their worst moments caught on film before they even got any help.”

Vasagar had traveled to the island nation to volunteer in hospitals and orphanages and assist in restructuring efforts after the nation’s twenty-year civil conflict.

“Both of my parents are from Sri Lanka, and I’d never been there before. After years of begging, I finally got to go. I wanted to see where my parents grew up and help with the volunteering effort,” she said.

On December 26th – the day an enormous underwater earthquake triggered the destructive tsunami in the Indian Ocean – Vasagar was fortunate enough to be at a safe distance from the coast.

“I was supposed to be at an orphanage on the coast that day, but the people organizing the effort told me to stay behind for a meeting,” she said. “Of the 150 children in that orphanage, only five survive[d]. I, too, would have been killed instantly.”

Vasagar is one of many Georgetown students, faculty, alumni and administrators that have joined together to help the victims of the disaster.

“Georgetown student groups, working with faculty and administrative partners, are planning a number of events and activities to raise money and do what we can as a community for those who have been directly affected by the tsunami,” university spokeswoman Laura Cavender said. “At this point, we are not aware of any members of our immediate Georgetown community who have been harmed by this tragedy.”

After hearing of the catastrophe, Amanda Gant (SFS ’07), president of Georgetown UNICEF and Student Campaign for Child Survival, decided to respond by starting an alliance of students, faculty, and clubs called Georgetown Unites for South Asian Aid.

“I want this to be a commitment to further our Georgetown campus,” Gant said. “This tragedy is something that has been focused on in the media across the country and the world. Nations have donated so much money, and I wanted to try and capture that spirit here at Georgetown and sustain it throughout the semester.”

The group hopes to help clubs on campus organize and promote events that would provide relief to victims of the tsunami. Gant said the group plans a kick-off event to begin fundraising and awareness efforts in Sellinger Lounge today at 4 p.m.

The event will feature student and faculty speakers, performances by campus musical groups, information tables for the Red Cross, UNICEF and Millennium Development and a bazaar fundraiser in which students can see the cost of supplies and make donations to assist in the relief effort.

“This could be a good way to remind people why they’re at Georgetown,” Gant said.

In the near future, Georgetown Unites for South Asian Aid hopes to help arrange fundraisers such as a club night sponsored by the International Student Association and Georgetown UNICEF, a Darnall Dance sponsored by the Darnall Community Council, and a neighborhood mixer sponsored by GUSA. The South Asian Society is also planning a dinner fundraiser. After the kick-off event today, clubs will meet to make further plans.

“Clubs have their own roles and if we can think of creative ways to unite all that, we can really make a difference,” Gant said.

Georgetown faculty members specializing in south Asia have offered their professional observations on the tsunami’s effects on the nations and people of the region.

The tragedy can offer a chance for peace after reconstruction, said Asoka Bandarage, Georgetown adjunct professor in Asian Studies and a native of Sri Lanka.

“Half the bodies of the tsunami victims cannot be identified. Their religion and language cannot be determined. Sad as it is, it is a tremendous opportunity to bring people together, to end the separatist wars and establish lasting peace in the region,” she said.

Susan Martin, executive director for the Study of International igration in the School of Foreign Service, agrees that peace is possible in that politically volatile area of the world.

“Aceh in Indonesia and Sri Lanka – the places with the highest number of deaths and greatest destruction – have also been beset by civil unrest and conflict,” Martin said. “It appears that the governments, rebel groups and aid agencies are coming together in the face of such devastating losses.”

But continued civil cooperation is only possible with successful reconstruction in South Asia, and the necessary renovations will require consistent international support, Martin said.

“While a great deal of aid is pouring in for the relief operations, it is not clear that money will be forthcoming for reconstruction and longer-term development needs throughout the affected areas,” she said. “If the typical pattern is followed, donors will quickly turn to the next crisis and lose interest in yesterday and today’s victims.”

Also crucial, according to Martin, is remembering the many other charitable organizations providing relief in other places around the world.

“There are dozens of equally compelling humanitarian emergencies around the world,” she said. “It’s essential that aid keep flowing to them while the world gears up for this newest emergency.”

Vasagar was three miles inland when the tsunami hit, she recalled, but even so, the roads were flooded to the point that she had to abandon the 4-x-4 truck she was in and walk through waist-deep water.

“I still do not know if a close friend also volunteering at the time is alive. I will probably never be sure of the safety of the Sri Lankan friends I made along the way,” she said.

After the tsunami hit, Vasagar and her family stayed in Sri Lanka for two weeks and continued to provide relief, working in displacement centers, which had formerly been places of worship and public buildings.

“I kind of wanted to stay,” she said. “It was really amazing that despite everything, the people just came together and were willing to give up everything to help each other out.”

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