January 7, 2005

Student groups show outpouring of support to raise relief money for those affected

After a holiday break overshadowed by images of the devastation from the tsunami in South and Southeast Asia, University students have returned to campus inspired to help out—organizing fundraisers and charity events to donate money and goods to survivors.

More than 140,000 are known to have died after an underwater earthquake on December 26 spawned a tsunami that struck countries around the Indian Ocean. Hundreds of thousands of survivors are left homeless and in peril from disease. World leaders have pledged to work together for tsunami relief and reconstruction, while the U.S. alone has pledged $350 million and frozen its debt to the nations that suffered the brunt of the damage.

On campus, students and various RSO's are coordinating their own efforts to send money and aid for the tsunami relief. The South Asian Student Association (SASA) and the Muslim Student Association (MSA) are spearheading many of the initiatives for tsunami relief, as many of the victims were South Asian and Islamic. MSA plans to hold a bake sale and henna hand painting services at the Reynolds Club for the rest of first week, and collaborate with SASA and CUSA on a study break for next Wednesday where students can donate money for the tsunami victims.

Omer Mozaffar, a fourth-year in the College and MSA president, said that immediately upon learning of the disaster, members of MSA felt they had to do something about it, and started reserving tables for an upcoming event.

Jewish Action, a community service branch of the Newberger Hillel Center, and Rhythm and Jews, an a cappella group at the University, are putting together a talent show to raise funds. Students will be able to purchase tickets for the show, to be held on January 11, from 7 to 10 p.m., and enjoy baked goods. Proceeds will go to the International Red Cross/Red Crescent.

Michael Ellsworth, a fourth-year in the College and member of Jewish Action, spent most of his break watching the news coverage about the tsunami and talking about the disaster with other members from Jewish Action, which motivated him to do something for the victims.

"We had previously done a clothing sale, and bake sales are fairly simple, so we knew we could pull it off," Ellsworth said. "Three members of Jewish Action, over e-mail during break, started planning to hold some fundraiser for tsunami victims. By Tuesday of first week, we had settled on having a concert and a clothing sale."

Beth Malinowski, a third-year in the College and a member of both Jewish Action and Rhythm and Jews, met Ellsworth and Aya Lewkowicz, a second-year in the College, to organize a benefit concert with performance groups from different RSOs, including members from the South Asian Student Association (SASA) and Jewish Action, as well as independent student performers.

A group of University students have gone beyond the normal fundraising efforts by forming their own independent ad hoc committee and are trying to coordinate a campus-wide effort to raise money for tsunami relief. According to one of the group's founding members, David Clayman, a second-year in the College, the group has worked non-stop contacting different RSOs, University administrators, and activists to gauge interest in the idea of having a large-scale campus-wide event.

The ad hoc committee is organizing a large scale University-wide fundraiser that is designed to raise as much money as possible for disaster relief efforts. The group is contemplating the idea of holding a large-scale event at a major Chicago venue, or organizing a march from the campus to downtown, though it is still open to other ideas and will be as flexible as possible in order to make sure that the event is a success. While the ad hoc group has not yet signed on with any single charitable organization to coordinate this event, it is considering working with a citywide charity to promote one umbrella event for the relief effort.

"The devastation of the tsunami disaster is too terrible for words," Clayman said. "It's hard to even fathom it happening to us. I've already donated $50 to relief efforts and I don't intend on stopping now. I'm going to do my best to work with others to fundraise together for the relief efforts."

Clayman said that it was touching to see how generous and enthusiastic people on campus have been about a united college relief event and all other RSO fundraisers for the tsunami, especially for a cause like this.

"It's important that all students feel a sense of ownership over this initiative to raise money for relief agencies," Clayman said. "This isn't just a SASA or CUSA initiative. We hope that our fundraiser will be seen as a ‘student body' initiative, the larger of hopefully many events around which we can all come together."