January 18, 2005

Tsunami relief/reconstruction Campus-wide fund-raising campaign launched

by Tom Woolf

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Student leaders at Southern Illinois University Carbondale today (Jan. 18) joined Chancellor Walter V. Wendler in launching a campus-wide fund-raising campaign for the ongoing tsunami relief/reconstruction efforts in south Asia.

"Let us, as SIUC students, not fail the needy and less fortunate of the world community," said Wan Kamal Wan Napi, president of the International Student Council. "Major disasters cannot be predicted, and when they occur, we must be ready to contribute resources to the relief work. Do not delay. You cannot tell how badly donations are needed. Remember, it is better to give a little than nothing at all."

Tequia Hicks, president of the Undergraduate Student Government, joined Wan Napi at today's news conference to encourage students to contribute to the tsunami relief effort.

Beginning today, on behalf of the student groups, the chancellor's office is accepting checks payable to the United Nations Children's Fund, or UNICEF. The fund-raising effort will continue until Feb. 10, when the Public Policy Institute will announce the results as part of a forum on the disaster, scheduled for 4 p.m. in Student Center Ballroom B. Speakers at the forum will include international students and William Recktenwald, the SIUC journalism faculty member who survived the tsunami and who spoke during today's news conference.

"Most of us were enjoying semester break and the afterglow of Christmas when this tragedy struck," Wendler said. "While a great deal of money and other forms of aid have been donated, the need remains great. Now that we are all back on campus, we have an opportunity to join together and demonstrate our compassion and commitment to others."

Approximately 430 SIUC students are from nine affected nations -- Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Malaysia, the Maldives, Sri Lanka, Tanzania and Thailand. In addition, the University has nine formal linkages with universities and governmental agencies in Bangladesh, India, Indonesia and Thailand.

"Fortunately, we have not heard that any of our students or their immediate families were directly affected by this disaster," Wendler said. "And we certainly were relieved and grateful that members of the campus community who were in south Asia at the time returned safely."

As he has done on numerous occasions since his return from Sri Lanka, Recktenwald again reflected on what he witnessed.

"I have seen, first-hand, the devastation in Sri Lanka, where there are 43,000 dead in a country of 19 million residents," he said. "It definitely is the hardest hit of all the countries. The death toll is higher in Indonesia, but it has a population of almost a quarter of a billion. I also have seen the outpouring of care and concern by the Sri Lankan people for my well-being and the well-being of other foreign visitors."

"This is a time for the people of our country, the richest country in the world, to open not only their hearts but their wallets to assist these people."

Though relief contributions from around the world top $4 billion, it is not nearly enough.

"When you consider the $28 billion poured into Florida just last year during those tragic hurricanes, this is a much bigger area with many more people involved," Recktenwald said. "We are talking literally about people starving to death, losing everything they had. And these are people who have no insurance and countries with no infrastructure. A lot more money is needed to rebuild these areas to alleviate their problems, to help these people survive."

Americans, he noted, turn on the kitchen faucet and expect water, flip a switch and expect the lights to turn on, and own at least one pair of shoes.

"None of that was true, even before this happened, in places like Sri Lanka," he said. "Most homes don't have running water or electricity, and people may have one pair of shoes. They don't own cars. In this country, we see a major problem with people overeating. In that part of the world, people were near starvation even before this tragedy struck."

Reaching out is among the goals of Southern at 150: Building Excellence Through Commitment, the blueprint for the development of the University by the time it celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2019.