UBC Reports | Vol.
51 | No. 2 |
Feb. 3, 2005
UBC Responds to Global Disaster
Students, faculty, staff and alumni support Tsunami relief
By Hilary Thomson
From direct on-the-ground help in the disaster zone, to a
myriad of fundraisers back home, the UBC community has been
active in aiding South Asian tsunami relief efforts.
Alumni Joey Dolcetti and Patrick Potvin were heading to
Cambodia for a holiday from their jobs at the National Sports
Institute of Malaysia, when a $16 airfare lured them to Phuket
en route. Because of their last-minute booking, they weren’t
able to get oceanfront accommodation but even so, the water
got to within 100 metres of their hotel.
The friends decided to cancel their holiday and stay in
Thailand as volunteers. For the next two weeks they helped
recover bodies, washed and wrapped bodies in a hospital morgue
and accompanied military personnel on searches of surrounding
Potvin completed a master’s degree in statistics in
physiology and used his expertise to work with Dolcetti to
create a database of patient records that has been used by
families, local authorities and international organizations.
The duo have returned to Phuket to help organize a sports
program for orphaned children.
David Sweet, director of UBC’s Bureau of Legal Dentistry,
(BOLD) has been working with RCMP to identify Canadian tsunami
victims through dental records and DNA matches.
The only forensic ondontology (dentistry) lab in Canada,
BOLD has organized and trained a group called B.C. Forensic
Ondontology Response Team (BC-FORT) a volunteer dental team
designated to respond in the event of a mass casualty incident
in B.C. It is the only such group in Canada.
Under Sweet’s direction, the team was able to get
dental X-rays of missing persons onto a high resolution website,
thanks to the quick work of the Faculty of Dentistry’s
Technology Support Team. Directed by Keith Munro, webmaster
James Pagnotta and senior programmer Wei Zhang created a site
that Thai personnel could refer to until original records
“This situation is both challenging and remarkable
because of the number of countries involved,” says Sweet.
“We really have to collaborate as citizens of the world,
not only as citizens of Canada.”
Members of BC-FORT will travel to Thailand in a series of
A UBC chair of mining and the environment has been working
in an emergency aid program in Banda Aceh, Indonesia. An expert
in water treatment, Ward Wilson was recruited on a special
leave to work with Canadian Food for the Hungry International
to design and build two water treatment plants. He will also
teach local people to maintain the facilities.
In addition to UBC individuals who have also volunteered
time, effort and expertise, many groups across campus jumped
“I have been personally touched and impressed by the
student response here,” says Alma Mater Society (AMS)
president Amina Rai. “There’s been a huge volume
of activities by student clubs who have worked together in
a unified way as well as launched independent events.”
Rai reports that the AMS has decided to donate 25 cents
per student, or more than $10,000, to the Red Cross.
Janet Teasdale, UBC director of student development, has
been impressed with how quickly students organized fundraising
“There was an immediate sense of ‘what can I
do?’ ” she says, adding that UBC’s student
experience is likely different from other Canadian universities
because there are 344 students here from the countries affected
by the tsunami.
The Sri Lanka Society set up donation stations in the Student
Union Building and held a fundraising dinner and cultural
pageant that raised $7,000.
Ten years old, the society has about 40 student and about
45 community members.
“The response has been wonderful -- it can’t
be expressed in words,” says society president Ranil
Waliwitiya, an agricultural sciences student. “Student
members have put in maximum effort and the AMS and university
administration have also been incredibly supportive.”
Other campus initiatives include UBC Sport and Recreation’s
run for tsunami relief where 150 participants raised $3,500.
Theatre at UBC donated opening night proceeds of $1,750 from
the current production, Village of Idiots. The International
Peer Program created a “1,000 cookies for $1,000 campaign”
that had some students baking for the first time in their
lives. The event raised $800 in five hours.
UBC Bookstore offered a Round up for South Asian Tsunami
Relief where individual sales totals were rounded up to the
nearest dollar with the difference being donated. The total
raised was more than $10,660.
In January, all employees at AMS Food Services donated 100
per cent of their tips to relief efforts, with contributions
matched by AMS restaurants.
A UBC engineering co-op student initiated a radiothon in
Calgary where he was completing a work term. Monty Raisinghani
put out a challenge to all students in the Calgary area and
helped raise more than $16,000.
For more information on UBC’s contributions, visit