Emory Tsunami Relief
Even as the emotional aftershocks of the devastating tsunamis in Southeast Asia were being felt around the globe, students were forming Emory Tsunami Relief, an informal organization that began as an on-line conference and rapidly swelled to more than four hundred members. The group put together several events in support of the tsunami victims: a candelight vigil which drew more than two hundred people, a benefit concert attended by some three hundred, and collection tables around campus to raise money for the cause. Their efforts yielded more than $13,000, thanks in part to a $5,000 matching gift from an Emory Hospital administrator. Staff and faculty contributions, funneled through the Emory Gives program, brought the amount to more then $18,000 altogether.
“This was a great way to channel the students’ reaction to such a negative experience,” says Donna Wong, associate director of the Office of Multicultural Programs and Services and the staff coordinator for Emory Tsunami Relief. “They have to be commended for their initiative.”
Emory doctor aids Sri Lankan tsunami victims
Assistant Professor of Medicine Michael Saenger, an internist at Grady Memorial Hospital, joined a fourteen-member Presbyterian Church in America disaster response team that flew to Sri Lanka in January to help those injured or displaced by December’s tsunami.
Sri Lanka, a small island of nineteen million in southern Asia, was second only to Indonesia in the number of tsunami victims, with 31,000 killed and a million left homeless.
“When poor people deal with any extra stress—they’re already just barely living on the margins of society—they are pushed over the edge,” says Saenger. “Now, whole communities have been wiped out. They’ve lost their homes, their means of income, and they are still missing family members. These people don’t have insurance or safety nets.”
Saenger’s wife, Sheryl, who is trained as a nurse, and their five children fully supported his two-week stay, and colleagues at Grady covered his shifts and rearranged schedules to help.
The group set up at a pre-established camp of some fourteen hundred refugees—one fifth of them children under five—near a fishing village that had been wiped out. The villagers had performed more than a thousand burials since December, and in a mass grave there were 350 bodies whose identities were unknown.
“While we were trying to help with medical care and counseling, a lot of the people were having acute grief and lingering trauma from seeing relatives die, their homes washed away, and their boats and nets lost,” Saenger says. “Many had post-traumatic stress syndrome and undiagnosed depression.”
At the camp, Oxfam delivered water twice a day in an attempt to prevent the residents from drinking contaminated groundwater.
“Of course, with it being 100 degrees even in January, kids were playing in puddles and rinsing their mouths with the water . . . evenbrushing their teeth with it. We educated a lot of people about how not to get sick,” Saenger says. “We saw a lot of diarrhea and respiratory infections, but not much dysentery.”
The Sri Lankans were touched that Saenger’s group not only treated them, but talked with them and lived in the tents beside them. “It develops a relationship of trust,” he says. “One of our translators told us, ‘You have not just been giving out medicine, you brought heart medicine.’ ”