In the face of tragedy, a responsibility to help

In the aftermath of an event as terrible and sudden as the tsunami that hit South Asia last month, the natural response is — after shock and mourning — to ask what we can do to help. But with the damage so extensive and so far away, it is equally natural to feel helpless in our efforts to reach victims halfway across the globe.

So it is heartening to see that even before dorms reopened, Yale students from across the world had begun creating groups and planning events to raise money for relief. Now, by creating a committee to coordinate the efforts of students, faculty and staff, the Yale administration has ensured that fund-raising drives, for example, are conducted in an organized and effective way.

But what we give will ultimately be only a miniscule fraction of what is needed to begin rebuilding the communities devastated by the tsunami. As a show of support, such fund-raising is important. Yet when even the donations of many countries around the world — donations running in the hundreds of millions of dollars — seem too small to offer any true relief, the money that we raise on campus may feel tragically small.

That is why perhaps the greatest contribution Yale can make toward assisting the recovery from last month’s devastation is to devote its expertise and creativity, in addition to its money, to the relief effort. In an open letter to the Yale community sent while traveling in India, University President Richard Levin wrote of graduate and professional students contributing their skills to helping tsunami victims. We hope Yale uses its main resource — its intellectual capital — to assist the relief efforts, whether by offering medical aid at the scene of destruction, working to create better warning systems for natural disasters, or crafting a public health response to the outbreak of disease in the tsunami’s aftermath.

At the same time, it is important for the Yale community to take this opportunity to think beyond the tsunami. It doesn’t take a natural disaster for malaria or a lack of fresh water to threaten the lives of millions worldwide. Long after the seemingly unforgettable images of suffering and mourning have left the front pages, our duty is to not only remember, but also to actively assist those far removed from the comfort and safety of Yale. A new research center opened by Yale last week to study HIV prevention in Chennai, India — in a region that, incidentally, suffered extensive damage from the tsunami — illustrates the kind of impact the University’s money and expertise can have on the developing world. As Yale continues to broaden its international impact, we hope these efforts to aid the world’s poor, whether undertaken officially by the University or organized by students and faculty on their own, grow in tandem.

In the face of a tragedy, Yalies has admirably begun to use sadness and sympathy as a springboard for helping the tsunami’s victims. As the communities so ravaged by the disaster embark on the almost unimaginable task of rebuilding their homes and their lives, we hope that spirit of service continues to grow.

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