Compelled by the images broadcast from South Asia after a powerful tsunami devastated coastal areas in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India and Thailand, Arlingtonians are hitting the streets to raise funds for the relief effort.
“It’s the largest natural disaster that any of us have ever known,” said Rick Kercz Jr., a Red Cross volunteer collecting money for disaster relief Saturday in the Pentagon City Mall. “There are some bad things we have to go through that are man-made and there may or may not be something you can do about those, but with a natural catastrophe there’s always something you can do to help.”
Triggered by an undersea earthquake Dec. 26 that measured nine points on the Richter scale, waves towering 20 and 30 meters hit the coast of the affected area, with more than 150,000 deaths now reported.
The Arlington Chapter of the Red Cross has raised more than $20,000 in local donations that will directly support the organization’s humanitarian relief efforts on the ground in communities hardest hit by the disaster, chapter CEO Lynn Kocik Keefe said. The Red Cross and other international aid groups are receiving hundreds of requests from people seeking to volunteer with relief workers, but Keefe said the best thing to do is send money.
“It’s not practical to have volunteers there who may not know the culture, the customs or the language,” she said. “There are trained Red Cross people there now.”
The tsunami inspired volunteers to take action. Neetha Rao, raised in India, signed up to collect donations because she knows people touched by the destruction.
“I have a lot of Sri Lankan friends whose families were affected,” she said. “It’s such a huge disaster, I wanted to do something to help them and people facing the same situation.”
Arlington Schools are finding creative ways to collect funds for the relief effort. According to Laura Neff-Henderson, Arlington Public Schools spokesperson, students at Washington-Lee High School are competing to raise more than $1,000 in pennies for UNICEF.
At Wakefield High School, the student government and the school’s Asia Club have created a floor to ceiling “hope tree” bearing messages of compassion from the students. The messages are hung on the tree for a $1 donation. Tsunamis are also the subject of much in-class discussion for the sixth graders in Alexandra Workman's science class at Thomas Jefferson Middle School. The students spent a day discussing the science of tsunamis, and learning about the tragedy. Fundraising efforts are also being organized in several other schools.
“I read an article where Colin Powell said it was the worst thing he’d ever seen,” said Red Cross volunteer Debby Bowman. “That’s part of why I came out today, on a Saturday.”