TTU student organizations raises money for tsunami disaster relief

It’ll be mid-month before Tennessee Tech University’s spring semester officially begins, but that hasn’t delayed two student groups from working together in response to the Dec. 26 tsunami that hit 11 Indian Ocean nations and killed more than 155,000.

In a three-day collection outside the Cookeville Wal-Mart department store, TTU’s Indian Association of Cookeville and the One World service group for diversity raised more than $6,500 for the relief effort — and members say they expect to continue receiving donations, with even more to come after classes resume.

“The amount of support we’ve gotten has been unbelievable. When we began this effort, we expected to raise about $2,000. We certainly never expected to raise as much money as we have,” said Sivakkumar Arjunon, general secretary of the IAOC.

“The outpouring of community support has been great,” said Barath Baburao, an IAOC member who helped organize the event.

With a significant student, faculty and staff population with ties to India (the IAOC web site lists more than a dozen faculty and staff members and about 100 student members), the TTU community has responded to the disaster like many others have — with a combination of sadness and hope.

“So many of our Indian students are from the southern region of the country, but we’re thankful that all the news we’ve gotten from them and their families so far has reported everyone safe,” said Katie Kumar, academic advisor for TTU’s basic business department.

Nearly 10,000 people are reported dead and about 5,800 still missing in India.
TTU biology professor S.K. Ballal is among those who have family in the country’s southern region. “My sister lives on the western coast of India, though, not the eastern coast that was hit by the tsunami, so she’s safe — but she did tell me the water receded three kilometers on Dec. 26, making the area look more like a mountain than a beach,” he said.

In addition, Ballal spent this summer on a Fulbright assignment in Sri Lanka, an equatorial island nation that’s among the hardest hit by the disaster.

Out of a population that totals about 20 million, Sri Lanka has approximately 46,000 confirmed deaths and 16,000 still missing — but the devastation of the tsunami aftermath also poses a danger to survivors, Ballal says.

“I expect contagious diseases — especially water-borne ones — to spread pretty fast before long,” he said.

In Sri Lanka, and likely in other areas affected by the disaster, a large percentage of the population gets its potable water from wells, which have become contaminated with salt water.

“That means no drinking water [from those contaminated wells] for the next few years,” Ballal said.

“The salt water will also have destroyed most of the vegetation, making the ground bare,” he continued. “There’s really no way to get rid of the salt from the soil except by rain dilution, which will take many years.”

And the damage done to the coastal beaches of Sri Lanka and other countries will likely take a decade or longer to repair.

“Sri Lanka is such a beautiful country. I couldn’t believe the fate of the beaches, where I spent some memorable time just a few months ago,” Ballal said. “The pictures I brought back with me are of places that will never be the same again.”

Donations raised by TTU’s One World and IAOC will be distributed among five different charitable organizations delivering disaster relief — CARE, American Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders, United States Fund for UNICEF and Association for India’s Development (Aidindia).

For more information about IAOC and its fund raising efforts, visit its web site at www.orgs.tntech.edu/iaoc.

Send donation checks made out to IAOC and noted for “tsunami relief” to Siva Arjunon at 905 N. Willow Ave., Apt. F6E, Cookeville, TN, 38501.

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