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Impacting tsunami relief

The tsunami that devastated nations along the coast of the Indian Ocean last December may seem like a world away from Hamilton, but distance has not stopped Freddie Dias '05 and Ingrid Tharasook '07 from getting involved in aid efforts.

When the disaster struck, Thailand native Tharasook was in Florida working with a Hamilton project collecting donations to aid area hurricane victims. "Ironic sure is the appropriate word," said Tharasook, who was earning money for U.S. disaster victims at the same time her own nation was dealing with a natural crisis.

After hearing the news, Tharasook's first instinct was to return home to help. "But my mother, who's a diplomat working directly with foreign aid for the tsunami, informed me that they were turning away all volunteers," she explained.

Dias, from Sri Lanka, had a slightly different experience. He was home over winter break when the tsunami hit. Like Tharasook, he wanted to volunteer, but was not quite sure how to go about it.

From his home, Dias contacted Professor of Communications Catherine Phelan, whose husband is a member of the crisis relief team for IBM. A computer science major, Dias teamed up with Tom Phelan to train 200 student volunteers how to use laptop computers, Web cameras and progressive computer technologies, including digital fingerprinting equipment, to help the Sri Lankan government with identifying and tallying victims.

Similarly, Tharasook found a way to have an instant impact. "After I heard the news of the tsunami, I completely shifted gears [in Florida]," she said. "I ended up convincing three local Thai restaurant chains to set up donation boxes in their branches."

Dias is hoping to continue his technological work at a physics research institute or in the IT industry in software development. He is also helping his parents with ongoing efforts to generate aid for tsunami victims.

"My parents are helping to renovate and rebuild a particular fisher village community on the southern coast of Sri Lanka," he said. "They have visited the affected area a few times and identified what forms of aid are required, and they are now collecting funds to buy a boat for a local fisherman and also to help rebuild houses and shops." His parents have sent him some promotional materials about the project, which Dias plans to distribute to organizations in the U.S. in hopes that more support can be generated.

Tharasook, who is spending the spring semester in Hamilton's New York City Program, is working with UNICEF to compile a 70-page advocacy report to encourage international action. The anthropology major plans to return to Thailand this summer after the paper is finished and presented. Although Tharasook's permanent residence of Bangkok is several hundred miles away from the devastated island of Phuket, she is determined to visit the area.

"I want to do some of my research on post-tsunami effects on the tourism industry," she said. "[Thailand] needs help with mobilization of human resources and reconstruction of the tourism industry and the economy."

Although she would love to stay in the United States after she graduates, she admits that she will eventually return to Thailand. "I don't think I could ever abandon home."

-- Emily Lemanczyk '05

Cupola