UTA Magazine
Disaster relief
Campus reacts with compassion, donations for tsunami victims

For many Americans, Dec. 26, 2004, was a day spent with family after celebrating Christmas. But deep under the Indian Ocean, the most powerful earthquake in more than 40 years triggered a massive tsunami that obliterated cities, seaside communities and holiday resorts, killing more than 212,000 people in a dozen countries.

Engineering junior Mohamed Thaha, whose parents live in Sri Lanka, one of the countries hardest hit, feared the worst. But a phone call from his mother around 10 p.m. on the night of the disaster brought good news: She and his father were safe.

Mohamed Thaha
Several members of engineering junior Mohamed Thaha's extended family were killed when the tsunami struck a train in Sri Lanka.

However, his father’s cousin and family were on a train traveling from Galle back to their hometown of Colombo. A wall of water knocked the train off the tracks, killing the family of four.

“The whole thing was really a shock,” Thaha said. “I was relieved to hear that my parents were all right, but it was very sad to know that other family members and friends did not survive.”

The aftermath has been difficult for Thaha.

“My parents advised me not to come home yet because there is not much I could do. I hope to go back this summer.”

Thaha’s parents suffered no damage to their home, but their jewelry business was affected. Several shops where the jewelry is made were washed away. Also, the business depends a lot on tourism, and that has suffered.

Shortly after the tsunami, UTA President James D. Spaniolo announced a campus-wide initiative through the Center for Community Service Learning. The CCSL served as a hub for collecting donations and forwarding them to the Red Cross International Relief Fund or UNICEF.

“Disaster is the great equalizer,” Anita Foster of the American Red Cross said during a Jan. 26 remembrance on campus. “When disaster strikes, we are all equal. Everybody is helping everybody out.”

At the remembrance, electrical engineering Associate Professor Saibun Tjuatja of Indonesia, International Student Organization president Ganga Fernando and Mary Ridgway, CCSL executive director, read the names of the 61 nations whose citizens were among the casualties.

Students at UTA and 10 other universities, including two from the United Kingdom, took part in a videoconference with Sri Lankan officials in January detailing the needs of those affected by the disaster. The UTA chapter of Americans for Informed Democracy helped organize the event.

Other campus efforts to aid the tsunami victims included an emergency fund, the Mustaque Ahmed Loan Fund, established through the International Office to help affected students with tuition, books and housing. The Sri Lankan Students Association collected donations for the Sarvodaya Foundation at http://www.sarvodaya.org.

Thaha is grateful for all who contributed in any way. “It’s been a struggle for many of the people over there,” he said. “I am anxious to go and see if there is some way I can help.”

— Jim Patterson

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