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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 areas.

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 arrived.

“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 two-week rotations.

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 into action.

“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 events.

“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 www.ubc.ca/tsunami.

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Last reviewed 22-Sep-2006

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