Tsunami Disaster Impacts HWS Community – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
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Tsunami Disaster Impacts HWS Community

Members of the HWS community have been affected by the tsunami that hit multiple Asian countries on the Indian Ocean rim on Dec. 26. For some faculty, students and community members, the countries hit are their homelands. Others were visiting or studying there. Following is what we know of their status and what members of our community have heard.

One Student's Story:
Alyson Spery '06 was on a beach in Thailand when the tsunami hit, but she escaped injury. Since then she has been helping with the relief efforts in Phuket.

“We were cooking food for the military that's taken over Phi Phi and doing a lot of work there, bringing bodies out every day,” she said in an article in the Washington Times Jan. 2. They brought us onto the island the first day, when it was completely inappropriate that we were there. It's really a dangerous place. No one is using protection — nothing for their mouths, nothing for their hands. And, meanwhile, they're eating where dead bodies have been, and it's absolute chaos.”

A follow-up story was in the Jan. 3 Washington Times, titled “Mom relieved to hear from daughter.” Spery called home on Saturday, Jan. 1, so her family could hear her voice.

“She has been an advocate for the good since she was a little girl,” Mrs. Spery said. “She is so compassionate. She is all heart.”

Spery was also featured in her local paper, the Salisbury, Md., Daily Times.

Spery is a public policy major and hopes to attend law school after graduation.

Serving on the Frontline:
Thomas Tighe LL.D. '03, chief executive officer of Direct Relief International and recipient of an honorary degree at the HWS 2003 Commencement ceremonies, is working with Direct Relief International to send medical and food supplies to the areas hit by the earthquakes and tsunami in East Asia.

“As in any such natural disaster, the first priority is on search and rescue of victims,” said Tighe. “Direct Relief will provide medical material aid that is needed, but we recognize that shelter, food, water, and other basic needs also are essential, so we will work with the other response agencies to ensure that the response is properly targeted.”

Tighe was quoted in the Jan. 5 New York Times story “Giving for a Cause, and That Cause Only.” The article discussed the trend of donors to earmark their gifts solely for the tsunami victims.

“People are very emotional, and they want their money to help the people that they see in pictures and on TV,” said Tighe. “They make it clear that this is not about tragedies that exist elsewhere in the world, and they're very skeptical about how charities use their money.”

Tighe served in the Peace Corps in Thailand, under then-director HWS President Mark D. Gearan. For more information on the efforts, visit Direct Relief International's Web site at “Response to Earthquake and Tsunami in Southeast Asia.”

Faculty Report In:
Faculty members, who were in the region at the time, report they are doing well. They and others send information.

Kanchana Ruwanpura, assistant professor of economics, e-mailed to send thanks for the messages of concern and says immediate family members in India are well. “This is less the case for many other close friends and known people – and many thousands of unknown (and largely poor) people. It is all rather horrific and depressing, and on a daily basis we are all absorbing the sheer magnitude of the human tragedy,” said Ruwanpura. Her friend and fellow classmate Rushira De Silva '93, who lives in Sri Lanka, is also safe.

Ilene Nicholas, associate professor of anthropology and sociology, sent a fax Dec. 28 to let all know she is unharmed. “I am completely well and was way inland when the tidal wave hit Tamil Nadu,” Nicolas said and added she intends to be back on campus Jan. 8.

Dia Mohan, assistant professor of anthropology and sociology, says the areas of New Delhi and Calcutta where she is from are not really affected. “The pictures and stories I am reading are devastating indeed, but I have no more information than what I read in papers and see on TV,” Mohan said.

HWS Fulbright visiting scholar Nur Fadhil Lubis, who was on campus this past fall, is from Medan, North Sumatra, Indonesia. Medan was not affected by the tsunami but is the main airport from which supplies are flown into the capital, Banda Aceh.

To Contribute:
Anyone from the campus community who has an update to share should send remarks to publicity@hws.edu and they will be added to this Daily Update item.