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Raising Money to Aid Tsunami Victims

Throughout community, multiple efforts to help.

Lavi Desilva was at the London’s Heathrow airport, waiting for a connecting flight to take him to the resorts on the south coast of his country, Sri Lanka. It was early morning on Dec. 27, when Desilva, traveling with his wife, learned the news.

“We spent a several frantic hours to get in touch with our family,” he said. He learned that the immediate family was safe, but quickly thought of his cousin, who owns a house only 200 yards away from a beach where the tsunami hit the island. He runs a charity, Unconditional Compassion, which helps school children obtain supplies and books. Twice a year he brings the school children to his house and presents them with the supplies. He was preparing to do the presentation, and had a number of children at his house, but they were awaiting a bus of 50 school children from another part of the island.

Then the water came. The children ran to the roof of a temple located behind the house. The water came and went, first tearing down everything in its path, and then taking the debris back towards the beach. Upon returning to the house, Desilva's cousin found six bodies. Because they were badly decomposed, they were buried behind the house. The 50 children on the way to his house were never heard from again, and are all feared dead.

DESILVA, THE HEAD of the services operation at Qknow in Reston, is now working with Sri Lankan charities to help mobilize local builders, and get private companies involved in the rebuilding process. He said the Sri Lankan government is working at a slower pace than private companies are in the relief effort. He hopes to get private companies involved in more than house rebuilding, and get involved with water sanitation and food distribution as well.

Locally, Desilva wants to connect Fairfax County Public Schools with schools in Sri Lanka. Of the island's 9,970 schools, 170 were destroyed or seriously damaged by the disaster. An additional 220 schools are currently being used to house the homeless. “If a local school would like to adopt a school impacted by the disaster, I can help facilitate that,” said Desilva. As far as the fundraising goes, he is concerned the donations will stop pouring in once the media stops covering the event.

RESTON BUSINESSES are doing their part in keeping the donations going. Scott Sloat, a public affairs manager with Nextel, said the company would be giving a donation to the American Red Cross. There is also an effort started by the employees of the company to raise money, which will be matched by the company. Nextel ran advertisements in USA Today encouraging people to donate, while the company itself donated international cell phones with service to the American Red Cross. Sloat said Nextel has a close working relationship with Red Cross, at both national and local levels. The idea for the fundraising came from the employees who came to ask their managers if the company was doing anything to aid the relief effort. “Our employees are a very civic-minded group,” said Sloat.

Long & Foster promised to match up to $10,000 from contributions by their agents. The company also ran a full page advertisement in the Washington Post, encouraging everyone to donate money to the cause. According to Julie Verrier, in charge of public relations for the company, Long & Foster's agents already raised over $20,000, and the company's match brings the tally to over $30,000. The agents choose themselves what charities to donate the money to, while the company has not disclosed yet which charity it will donate its $10,000.

The Reston Hospital Center was also given an opportunity to raise funds for the relief effort. The hospital's parent company, Hospital Corporation of America (HCA), announced it would match employee donations on a dollar for dollar basis. The company also announced a $1 million donation to the American Red Cross. HCA's officials said they would seek advice from relief organizations to direct the money to the areas of the relief effort where it is most needed.

LAW ENFORCEMENT agencies in the area took a different approach to the fund-raiser. FBI agents faced Secret Service agents on ice at Reston's Skate Quest ice skating rink. The hockey game brought out approximately a thousand people. The tickets for the game were sold at a price of $5, and the money benefited the USA Freedom Corps for Tsunami/Earthquake Relief. The game was the third annual event between the two agencies. The first year it was played to raise money for the sniper victims, and last year's event raised money for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. "The crowd is always into it," said Mike Ryan, the general manager of Skate Quest in Reston, "these guys take it pretty seriously." Skate Quest donated the ice for the game, played on an Olympic-sized rink.

South Lakes High School is also helping out with the donations for the relief effort. The schools in Fairfax County are usually not allowed to conduct fund-raisers, but the School Board decided to lift the rule for this particular cause, according to South Lakes' English teacher Jamie Petrik. As soon as that happened, said Petrik, a number of student organizations in the school became involved in raising money for the relief effort. The faculty, helping the students raise the money, came up with a goal of $10,000.

Since Jan. 8, the students and faculty donated $2,100 in the school. Another $500 was collected by the students who went out to the community to ask for donations, and collected money in front of the Safeway stores at the South Lakes and Hunter Woods shopping centers. "There is an amazing group of kids here," said Petrik, "they are compassionate and understand that the world is bigger than just Reston." The students will ask for donations at the Reston Town Center ice-skating rink on Feb. 7, 8, and 9, days when the Town Center will donate 50 percent of its proceeds to the cause.