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No MIT Students Hurt by Asian Tsunami

By Beckett W. Sterner


No student at MIT is known to have been killed or injured in the tsunami that hit countries on the Indian Ocean’s coast, MIT administrators said, although many students who may have been affected have not yet confirmed their statuses.

Many students have made an effort in the relief work through organizing fundraising efforts, donating money, and traveling to help out in person.

Danielle Guichard-Ashbrook, director of the International Students Office, said she has been working on contacting the approximately 300 international students from the most heavily hit countries such as Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Thailand.

So far, about 50 have responded, and all of them have said they are fine, she said. “They are checking in,” she said, but “in those affected regions... the infrastructure is still pretty sketchy.”

“The thing we don’t know about is families,” said Robert M. Randolph, senior associate dean for student life.

He said the Alumni Association has also set up a message board on its Web site for people to post updates on their or another alum’s status. Administrators had not heard of any student directly impacted through any channel as of yesterday.

Students assist in aid

Many students have taken a personal interest in helping survivors rebuild.

“I think that the community is rallying” for the aid effort, Guichard-Ashbrook said.

As individuals world-wide pledge millions of dollars, students at MIT are raising funds for disaster relief. Some will even travel to affected countries to help rebuild in person.

Vidya Jonnalagadda, a post-doctoral assistant in biological engineering, has been working on a fundraising drive to purchase new fishing boats for communities in the Tamil Nadu state of India.

Working under the auspices of the Association for India’s Development, which has raised $1.5 million nationwide, Jonnalagadda said that the MIT community had already been very generous with its donations.

“We were there for five hours [on Monday] and collected nearly 700 dollars,” she said, referring to the group’s booth in Lobby 10. It takes about two to three thousand dollars to buy a large fishing boat for the community to use.

Public Service Center Director Sally Susnowitz said that the PSC is helping students raise money for two charities, the Sewalanka Foundation and UNICEF. They are also currently gathering donations to provide several public service fellowships this summer for people to work in the reconstruction effort.

Many people “were demoralized by this huge loss of life and want to help,” she said, but it is important for people’s attention not to wander over time because there will still be much to do months later.

Students help out at home

Anand Sivaraman, a post-doctoral associate at MIT, has repurposed his vacation this January in order to help those hurt by the tsunami near his home in the city of Chennai.

“I was anyway going to be there,” he said, but now “instead of a vacation I’m going to work there,” helping on a team of AID workers.

He said that more than 350 volunteers signed up with a program run by AID, predominantly locals to the area but also several from the U.S.

“I think the whole administration and the federal government have been so helpful here,” he said.

He is not sure what he will work on when he arrives, he said. “I have to get [there] with an open mind and make myself get absorbed with the team already there.”

Recent MIT graduate and former Graduate Student Council President Sanith Wijesinghe PhD ’03 said that he plans to spend a month volunteering in Sri Lanka.

“My family is out there,” he said. “Luckily no one was hurt, but I’m going over to help as best I can.”

He said he will join a team being sponsored by the Sri Lankan community in New England, and will work on “buying fishing boats, buying fishing nets, trying to get people back on their feet. There’s a lot of medical aid” needed by everyone hit by the tsunami.