By Russell Guerrero
San Antonio, Texas (IOCC) Winter break is an opportunity for college students to spend a little time with their families, a lot more time with their friends, and generally unwind after frantic weeks of final exams and term papers. But the earthquake and tsunami that hit South Asia late December 2004 changed all that, as many Trinity University students found themselves consumed in coordinating relief efforts for the catastrophic natural disaster.
The pictures of the devastation and the stories of the human tragedy were a call to action for five Trinity students, including Rathi Martinez, an Orthodox Christian whose family is from southern India. Any plans they may have had for their time away from Trinity were quickly postponed as they worked to help the tsunami victims.
For Simran Singh, a junior from San Antonio, the tsunami tragedy “was almost incomprehensible.” He soon contacted University Chaplain Stephen Nickle about organizing a candlelight vigil for the start of the new semester. His plans were to have an event that would bring the Trinity community together in wake of the tragedy and to encourage donations for tsunami relief. As Singh started planning the vigil, he received an e-mail from Danny Hosein, a sophomore from Friendswood, Texas.
“I was very upset about it. My family has roots in India,” Hosein said. He also learned a close friend had been visiting an Indian beach one day before the deadly wave hit. He said he felt a need to reach out to other Trinity students, so he sent an e-mail to several friends who were members of different student organizations at Trinity to start a student relief drive.
His efforts paid off as he was contacted by Singh; Bryan Henderson, a senior from Artisia, N.M.; George Ross, a senior from Santa Fe, N.M.; and Ms. Martinez, a junior from Schertz, Texas, and a member of St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Church in San Antonio, Texas.
The tsunami had taken a personal toll on Ms. Martinez: Several members of her extended family lived in India and had died in the tragedy.
“My mother and her entire family are from the South Indian State of Tamil Nadu,” she said. “I was at the College Conference at Antiochian Village when I heard that the areas of Tamil Nadu where my family is from were destroyed. So in the midst of holiness, this devastating news was brought to me.”
The five students began trading e-mails and planning a united student relief effort even though the semester had not yet started, they had not worked together before and, in some cases, barely knew each other.
As Singh worked on the vigil, Hosein worked on getting volunteers to go door-to-door, asking for donations in the residence halls, and on setting up donation tables in the Coates Center and Mabee Hall.
Henderson worked with different University offices and on campus businesses so donations could be made using Tiger Bucks, the student electronic debit accounts. He would also be in charge of accounting for all the donations.
Ross worked with fraternities and sororities as they planned a benefit fund-raiser in the Tigers’ Den. And Ms. Martinez worked with the Trinity chapter of the American Medical Student Association to assemble health kits to send to the tsunami-ravaged region.
During the planning, Ms. Martinez told the others she was working with International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC), a humanitarian aid agency of Orthodox Christians. IOCC would take the health kits and send them to the crisis stricken region. While the Red Cross, UNICEF, and Doctor’s Without Borders could no longer guarantee that all donations would be used to help tsunami victims, IOCC assured Ms. Martinez that all funds would go to tsunami relief. The students agreed that IOCC would be the recipient of Trinity’s donations. The group had set a goal to raise $5,000 by the end of January.
As the days passed, the five main organizers were surprised and thankful for all the support they received. “The coolest thing was that everybody just came together,” Singh said. “I’ve been involved in lots of similar events on campus, and I never seen everybody so willing to help out. Everybody was asking me or Danny or Bryan, ‘What can we do to help?’ ”
The candlelight vigil was held on Jan. 12. Singh had asked Hosein, Henderson, Ms. Martinez, and University President Dr. John Brazil to speak during the half-hour service “It came together really well; we had an immense student turnout at the vigil. Rev. Nickle said between 300 and 500 students showed up,” Hosein said. Trinity students donated $1,200 during the vigil.
The other fund-raising efforts were also very successful. According to Henderson, $3,000 was raised from collections taken at the residence halls and the tables in Coates and Mabee. About $2,850 was collected through Tiger Bucks donations. The benefit fund-raiser held in the Tigers’ Den raised $2,000. In addition, Dr. Brazil, the president, gave $1,000 to the student relief effort. Overall, the students raised $10,000 (and 9 cents) in less than three weeks twice the amount set as the original goal.
“The kids there were very enthusiastic in doing what they did, and I thought it was a wonderful thing,” said Fr. Dan Suciu, St. Sophia pastor. “The students liked the fact that IOCC is a Christian organization that does charity without any conditions.”
As the student drive came to a close, Ms. Martinez had nothing but praise for the others who helped with the planning. “It was like a big weight being lifted off my shoulders,” she said. “I knew the campus was in good hands. With a cause that was as personal to me as this one was, I don’t think I would have trusted it with anyone else.”
“I had no doubt that whatever they did, it would be successful,” said David Tuttle, Dean of Students, about the students’ relief efforts. “Honestly, I just wanted to stay out of their way. They needed little institutional support. The students scheduled the events, set their goals, and promoted their cause. The students as a whole responded with a great outpouring of donations and showed that they were affected deeply by what happened.”
This story first appeared as a Trinity University news release and is provided courtesy of the Office of Public Relations.