Students push earthquake relief

Nearly two weeks after a destructive earthquake rocked the Kashmir region, Yale students and administrators are mobilizing in response to the disaster and relief efforts are underway.

University officials met with members of the Yale South Asian Society and Muslim Students Association on Tuesday to discuss Yale’s response to the major earthquake that struck India and Pakistan on Oct. 8. While Yale has not yet decided whether it will match monetary donations as it did in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, a final decision will be made in the next few days, said Nina Glickson, assistant to Yale President Richard Levin.

“Katrina is the first and only time we have ever [matched donations],” Levin said. “We did that because it was a catastrophe close to home. What we’ve done with the recent Pakistani earthquake is encourage people … to send their money.”

While Dean of Student Affairs Betty Trachtenberg said it is unlikely that the University will match funds, the Yale administration has responded to the disaster by creating a relief organization, South Asia Earthquake Relief, which will manage donations collected from the community.

“We’re working with the students … to help them set up accounts in which to place their money,” Trachtenberg said.

The money raised will go to the Kashmir International Relief Fund and the Edhi Foundation, two reputable charities chosen by the SAS, group treasurer Govind Rangrass ’06 said.

Meanwhile, campus organizations have also initiated fundraising drives and awareness. The SAS led the Yale response by holding a memorial service for the victims of the earthquake in Battell Chapel, along with other student organizations. The multifaith service featured a speech by Yale College Dean Peter Salovey.

“It was an amazing event, very spiritual and meaningful,” SAS president Abbas Hussain ’07 said.

SAS has also collected about $600 after placing donations boxes outside the memorial service and is planning to put the boxes outside dining halls starting this Friday.

Other student organizations are contributing to the effort by donating portions of proceeds from their events to the earthquake relief fund, Hussain said. Shares of the proceeds from the SAS show “Roshni,” the Asian American Students Association Pan-Asian Dinner, the Chinese American Students Association fall show, the Yale Homelessness and Hunger Action Project fast and the Medical School’s Diwali Festival will go toward the SAER collection. Rangrass said the Diwali Festival will likely raise about $10,000, half of which will go toward earthquake relief.

Even small donations can have a huge impact, Samar Abbas ’06 said.

“Three dollars can buy food for an entire family for a day,” Abbas said.

While Hussain praised the administration’s response to the crisis, he said he thinks students on campus have not responded as vigorously in part because the earthquake struck far from home.

“I feel like both events are disasters where people are suffering and it doesn’t matter if one is closer to home and another is far away,” Hussain said. “If people are suffering they need to be helped.”

The 7.6-magnitude earthquake was centered in the Kashmir region that straddles both Pakistan and India. Rangrass said the death toll currently stands above 50,000, but is expected to rise with the onset of winter. The United Nations reported that 300,000 of the 3 million people who live in the earthquake zone are in need of shelter.

“The biggest thing that survivors need are tents because it’s going to start snowing in the mountains,” Abbas said.

In coming weeks, SAS and MSA officers will stage a fundraising dinner with the help of other student groups, Hussain said. Student organizers are also lobbying the administration to allow students to bursar their donations through the Yale Web site, Hussain said.

Assistant Yale College Dean Saveena Dhall said SAS and MSA leaders can look to the Katrina response as a model for future relief efforts.

“The knowledge that has been gained … [has] helped the students that are organizing this to borrow information and resources,” Dhall said. “It’s definitely made the work a little easier because there are others out there to learn from.”

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