Touched by a tragedy

Solemn service at MU honors victims of tsunami
Wednesday, January 26, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 7:08 a.m. CDT, Friday, July 18, 2008

Mihiri Desilva-Udawatta ended her speech at MU’s tsunami memorial service Tuesday with a Buddhist prayer, blessing those who perished in the Dec. 26 disaster.

Desilva-Udawatta, who spoke as a representative of Sri Lanka and lost a cousin and many friends to the wall of water, lent a personal voice to the global tragedy.

“My cousin and a group of friends drove to a beach resort to enjoy a Christmas weekend,” she said. “My cousin was swimming in the sea when the tsunami struck.”

The solemn, noontime service drew several dozen students, faculty and others to the north side of the columns on Francis Quadrangle.

The Associated Press estimates that between 143,877 and 178,081 people in 11 countries have died from the tsunami.

The memorial service remembered the dead through speeches, a moment of silence and 21 tolls of the Switzler Hall bell. Chancellor Brady Deaton, whose office organized the event, praised the MU faculty and students who have aided in relief efforts.

“Our MU staff will continue to work with students who have been affected by this tragedy or whose families have been affected,” Deaton said. “We recognize that the recovery effort is long-term and not short-term. I want to encourage faculty, staff and students to explore long-term opportunities to contribute to these recovery efforts through programs, through research and through service efforts.”

Deaton recognized Syed Arshad Husain, founder and director of MU’s International Center for Psychosocial Trauma, who, along with two other local psychologists, leaves today for Asia. Husain and his team will work with affected communities to provide relief to victims and survivors bearing the psychological burden of the disaster.

The team will train teachers, physicians and mental health workers to effectively handle the effects of psychosocial trauma in children.

To support Husain’s efforts, MU students such as junior Ruth Ninajanty have helped raise money. Ninajanty, a native of Indonesia, participated in the Columbia Values Diversity Celebration fund-raiser this month and has collected student donations through a table display in Brady Commons.

“I’m from Indonesia, and I’m so worried,” she said. “This is the only thing I can do for my country.”

Jim McCartney, director of MU’s International Center, said students have helped to raise more than $1,400, much of it for Husain’s team. Ninajanty said she prefers supporting the Columbia team more than a national relief organization because she knows exactly where the money will be used.

Unlike Ninajanty, MU sophomore Rosie Weilbacher had no direct ties to the disaster or relief efforts but said she attended the memorial to show her support.

“I think it’s an important idea for us to be involved,” she said. “More students should have participated.”

Deaton invited the university community to attend a public forum on the effects of natural disasters, at 4 p.m. Feb. 17 in Ellis Auditorium.

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