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Students Work to Raise Quake Funds for India, El Salvador

By Nancy L. Keuss


Long after a destructive earthquake rocks the Richter scale and well after initial emergency relief efforts end, there remains the sizable task of rebuilding toppled communities. One new student-based humanitarian aid group is raising money for organizations that not only provide emergency relief but also eventually shift over to long-term disaster reconstruction work.

United Trauma Relief, formed in December by MIT undergraduate Sanjay Basu ’02, is currently accepting donations to aid the Red Cross and grassroots organizations in two areas of urgent need.

One major focus is the January 26 earthquake that hit India’s western state of Gujarat, leaving tens of thousands of people dead. Another is the January 13 earthquake that jolted El Salvador and left over one hundred dead and up to 1200 missing.

“There’s a lot to be done in the area of trauma relief. There really aren’t any easy avenues for college students for this sort of thing. There have been isolated [aid] groups at all schools, but we’ve now started this coalition,” Basu said.

Basu believes that the most help comes from low-profile dedicated non-government organizations, so-called “poor person-led organizations,” rather than highly-visible disaster organizations or US aid agencies.

Basu noted of some aid groups: “There is a big problem by what is called ‘dumping,’ in which a government or private company, such as a pharmaceutical company, may donate a large amount of medical supplies to appear humanitarian, but most of which turns out to be expired and thus useless.”

Payal P. Parekh G, a volunteer of AID-Boston, also emphasized the importance of funding aid organizations that are already locally active in quake-hit areas.

“After the international aid agencies leave, these are the organizations that will stick around. These are also the organizations that know the area, the language, and the culture well. They are essential to get aid to the most remote areas,” Parekh said.

United Trauma Relief aims to help with both epidemic services and refugee/disaster services. This part of the collected funds will go directly to long-term aid such as construction of clinics, mental health treatment, primary care, and sustained rebuilding of homes and hospitals.

Donations collected for Gujarat relief are directed to the Association for India’s Development, a volunteer organization that works with grassroots aid groups in affected areas, while funds raised in response to the El Salvador earthquake are sent to the organization Medicins Sans Frontieres.

In its first week, United Trauma Relief raised roughly $2000 for India aid and $1000 for El Salvador relief.

In addition to monetary donations, United Trauma Relief has collected clothing and blankets, which have been arranged to be carried to India by Northwest Airlines and Air India.

Basu formed the group under the advisership of Program in Science, Technology, and Society Professor Evelynn M. Hammonds, and with a large amount of faculty support.

The United Trauma Relief booth will remain in Lobby 10 for earthquake aid through the rest of this week.