Emory Report
January 18, 2005
Volume 58, Number 15


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January 18, 2005
Emory pitches in to help global tsunami relief effort

BY michael terrazas

Amita Manatunga had never seen anything like it. Visiting her home in Sri Lanka over the holidays, she was in Colombo on the western coast when the Dec. 26 tsunami hit the southern shore a few hours away. Partly because of inaccesible roadways—and partly because she needed to prepare herself—Manatunga waited a week before going to see the devastation.

“My brothers and sister had been living there for a long time, and they were more immune to seeing dead people than me,” said the associate professor of biostatistics in the Rollins School of Public Health, referring to Sri Lanka’s recent history of internal conflict. “They were able to go [to the affected areas] within four days. They said the smell was very bad, and they saw lots and lots of dead bodies.

“The things they described,” Manatunga continued, “I didn’t want to see.”

Very few people in the Emory community were forced to witness the tsunami’s destruction first hand. But like so many others around the world, when the waters began receding, the University extended a helping hand.
By the time President Jim Wagner distribued an all-campus e-mail on Dec. 30 asking the community to donate to relief efforts, a handful of Emory students already had gotten involved. Led by senior business major Snehal Shah, president of the Indian Cultural Exchange, the students organized a LearnLink conference, and that was just the beginning.

On Tuesday, Jan. 25, Emory Tsunami Relief (ETR) will hold a candlelight vigil on the Quadrangle in honor of tsunami victims. Two nights later, on Jan. 27 from 7–9 p.m., the group is sponsoring a benefit concert in Glenn Auditorium featuring student performers such as a cappella groups No Strings Attached and The Gathering.

Just two weeks after the tsunami had hit—and a time when most students are still enjoying the holidays with their families—roughly 75 people had contributed to the LearnLink conference, asking how to help. And Shah said he gets more volunteers every day.

“You see the death toll mounting every day, and your first thought is, ‘This is crazy,’” Shah said. “The second thought is, ‘What can I do?’”

Both Shah and Donna Wong, associate director of the Office of Multicultural Programs and Services, said they’ve been surprised by the number of ERT volunteers. “You have to commend the students on this grassroots effort,” Wong said. “It’s been pretty amazing.”

ETR has set a fund-raising goal of $5,000 by Jan. 28. In addition to the benefit concert, the group will set up collection tables around campus from 10 a.m.–4 p.m. during the Jan. 24–29 Charter Celebration. All donations will be directed to Global Impact, one of EmoryGives’ affiliated charitable federations.

Emory community members also are invited to help through the United Methodist Committee on Relief
(800-554-8583). The Internal Revenue Service has declared that all tsunami relief donations made on or before Jan. 31 may be deducted on 2004 tax returns. To donate online through EmoryGives, visit