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College students open hearts, raise funds for tsunami survivors


College students open hearts, raise funds for tsunami survivors

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by Susan Vuyovich

Kendrix Gavin and Victoria Scott of Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College light candles for tsunami victims.
Jan. 25, 2005   

A UMNS Report
By Kathy L. Gilbert*

Shonti Breisch, a student at United Methodist-related University of Puget Sound, was vacationing with her family at a resort area of Khoa Lak, Thailand, when the Dec. 26 tsunami hit.

Her 15-year-old sister, Kali, died. Her 16-year-old brother, Jai, barely survived.

Ron Thomas, president of the Tacoma, Wash., university, says Breisch wanted people to hear about her experience. “Shonti asks that we share her family’s story to help others appreciate the magnitude of what has happened, the resilience of the Thai people and the miracle of her brother’s survival,” he said.

As the waves crashed over South Asia and Africa, many college students were on holiday break. On many campuses, officials are checking on students from the affected areas and hearing stories like Shonti’s.

At the same time, a tidal wave of response is on the way from returning students and faculty as they plan prayer vigils, concerts, spaghetti suppers and other creative fund raisers in response to the disaster, which left more than 200,000 dead and millions homeless.

“Because I know of the strong commitment to service at the United Methodist-related colleges and universities, I am not surprised by the immediate and generous response of our students, faculty and staff,” says Wanda D. Bigham, executive with the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry. “It has been my experience that there is a true concern for helping people in need both at home and abroad. In the aftermath of this terrible tragedy, our college communities have moved quickly and creatively to offer assistance.”

Victoria Scott, a student at Mississippi (Perkinston) Gulf Coast Community College, is spearheading the relief effort for the Wesley Foundation on that campus. The mission is personal and real for the students because they sponsor a 7-year-old boy, Casmito, who lives in Indonesia. The students have been sending money and letters to Casmito for the past year through Compassion International.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by Susan Vuyovich

Casmito has been adopted by students at Mississippi (Perkinston) Gulf Coast Community College.
“Victoria has been our contact person for our sponsored child, writing him often, making certain enough funds are collect each month for our pledge,” says Susan Vuyovich, director of campus ministry. “We have not yet heard from our child but have heard from Compassion, and if he was in his village, he should be safe. We are praying so!”

A weekly love offering will be collected during the campus-wide vespers service until the end of the semester for victims of the tsunami, Vuyovich says.

A “change war” was waged on the campus of United Methodist-related Lambuth University in Jackson, Tenn., and $400 was raised.

“As a community, we have been overcome with emotion after seeing images and hearing about the widespread devastation in Southeast Asia,” says the Rev. Tiffany Padgitt, chaplain. “We wanted to help our brothers and sisters who have been affected by the tsunami, and also let them know that they are in our thoughts and prayers.”

The missions committee of Lambuth’s Religious Life Council sponsored the change war Jan. 10-17. Buckets sponsored by different organizations and athletic teams were placed in the cafeteria and at basketball games.

“We realize that college students understand the great need for aid created by tsunami disaster but feel unable to help because of our lack of finances,” says Jennifer Brough, a student member of the missions committee who helped create the project. “We decided to do a change war because we can all give a little and together it will add up to provide some relief for the victims.”

Concerts and dinners

Several faculty members of Emory University in Atlanta were in the affected areas on Dec. 26 and are staying, using their personal resources, to help with recovery and rebuilding until the spring semester begins, university officials report. Students will station tables around the campus for six hours a day to collect money for the relief fund, and they will hold a benefit concert featuring student performances during the week of Jan. 24.

A core group of international students from India, Sri Lanka and Indonesia has been the catalyst for the University of Cincinnati’s response, says Jeanne Smith, campus minister.

The Tsunami Victims & Orphan Relief Coalition held a multifaith fund-raising dinner Jan. 22 at the Memorial Hall of Cincinnati Music Hall. Smith presented the Christian prayer.

“The Wesley Foundation will host monthly dinners to raise funds by providing the campus and community with authentic South Asia and African cuisine and programs detailing culture and relief efforts in the countries affected,” she says.

“Fact posters” and canisters are being placed throughout the campus at North Central College, Naperville, Ill., to help students understand the tragedy, says Alycia Capone, assistant director of ministry and service.

“The Ministry and Service Department, along with North Central College, understand that this tragedy will have long-term effects, and we have committed to support our Southeast Asia neighbors throughout the rebuilding of their lives.”

Participants at a Holston Annual (regional) Conference young adults event, Divine Rhythm, are being asked to donate relief kits to the United Methodist Committee on Relief. The weekend conference for ages 18-35, held Jan. 21-23, drew 500 participants.

The Rev. Christine Henchar Reed, a United Methodist chaplain at Converse College in Spartanburg, S.C., is helping two students from Sri Lanka collect donations for their home church, St. Mary’s Church in Ratmalana, Sri Lanka. 

“The church (St. Mary’s) has been acting as a homeless shelter since the storm, providing housing and meals, and our students’ mother has been cooking meals around the clock,” she says.

Joining in prayer

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by Rick Schmidt

Students at Lambuth University raise money for tsunami relief.
Many colleges are holding multifaith services on their campuses. Hamline University in St. Paul, Minn., held a “Remembering Indian Ocean Tsunami” service with participants from Christian, Islamic, Buddhist, Jewish and Hindu traditions.

Faculty, students and staff from different countries led the service, says the Rev. Theresa Mason. Rituals included “a Hindu flower offering, a Buddhist water pouring in remembrance of those who died, Tibetan Buddhist prayer flags, a Jewish Kaddish, new United Methodist hymns about the tsunami, Muslim chanting and lighting candles,” she says. Students have set a goal of raising $10,000 by the end of the year.

“I initiated plans for a ‘teach-in’ when spring term starts,” Mason continues. “The teach-in will give us all more opportunities to learn about our sisters and brothers in nations which were affected, and respond to the questions it raises scientifically and theologically. Students are planning a fund-raising dinner in connection with the teach-in.”

On the campus of United Methodist-related Ferrum (Va.) College, a campaign for tsunami relief will be integrated into the religion course “Understanding Mission: A Biblical Perspective.” Funds raised will go to UMCOR.

Cornell College in Mt. Vernon, Iowa, has used a ballroom dancing club demonstration, all-campus talent show, the showing of a Southeast Asian film and a social event for faculty members to raise funds. Cornell’s crocheting club, “Knot Just for Grannies,” is also teaching crocheting so interested people can create blankets to donate to the Red Cross.
“The tragic circumstances of the tsunami that ravaged parts of Asia and Africa (have) galvanized a worldwide response from religious communities,” says the Rev. Luther Felder, executive with the Board of Higher Education and Ministry. “I am especially, gratified, though not surprised, to see the tremendous support young people active in our United Methodist -related campus ministries, schools, colleges and universities have given to the relief effort. They have helped to demonstrate that the cause Christ has no boundaries.”

Donations to UMCOR’s “South Asia Emergency” relief efforts can be placed in local church offering plates or sent directly to UMCOR, 475 Riverside Drive, Room 330, New York, NY 10115. Designate checks for UMCOR Advance #274305 and “South Asia Emergency.” Credit-card donations can be made online at or by calling (800) 554-8583.

*Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or

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