February 9, 2005: Notebook
Hashi Wijayatilake ’05 first heard about the Dec. 26 tsunami that struck her country of Sri Lanka as she was finishing Christmas dinner with a group of family friends in Washington, D.C. She contacted her parents, who were not affected, and listened to the heart-wrenching stories on television.
“I was just wishing I was there, to be able to do something,” said Wijayatilake, whose hometown, the capital city of Colombo, was a distribution point for aid to areas affected by the disaster.
When Wijayatilake returned to Princeton, she joined the steering committee of Princeton Tsunami Relief, a coalition of more than a dozen student groups. Within days, she was working with other students to raise thousands of dollars for humanitarian aid. Alumni also helped the international relief effort, leading aid organizations and lending a hand in South Asia.
Akanksha Hazari ’05, a former president of the South Asian Students Association who led the relief group’s steering committee, was one of many students with personal connections to the tsunami. Her grandparents live in Madras, on India’s east coast. But most involved in the fund raising knew little about South Asia. They were simply moved by the enormity of the natural disaster.
“You really don’t have to have a political position on why something needs to be done — it’s nobody’s fault,” Hazari said. “Our biggest obstacle would be apathy, and we haven’t really encountered that.”
Fund raising consisted of a range of activities, including a collection booth at Frist Campus Center that brought in more than $1,400 the first day, a study break at the Quadrangle Club with food donated by local restaurants, and a Jan. 8 benefit fair at Frist that included a panel discussion about relief efforts and performances by student musical groups. Princeton Tsunami Relief raised more than $6,000 in its first two weeks, and another campus group, the Manna Christian Fellowship, donated the $2,000 in proceeds from its annual Musical Winterlude to tsunami relief through World Vision, a Christian aid group.
Remarkably, the tsunami relief work was planned almost entirely during the University’s reading period. Kyle Meng ’05, who called on his experience from the Global Issues Forum to head the benefit-fair planning, temporarily put papers and exams on the back burner. “I think other things take precedence sometimes,” he said, “and I’m glad that there are a lot of Princeton students who share that [point of view].”
Meng worked in Bangkok for the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in the summer of 2003, and at his suggestion, half of the student-raised funds were donated to the IRC, which is headed by President and CEO George Rupp ’64. The other half supported CARE USA, an aid group led by Peter Bell *64 that has dispensed food, water, and shelter materials in India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Somalia.
Rupp, the former president of Columbia University, said that the IRC’s efforts are focused on the Aceh province of Indonesia, which was directly in the tsunami’s path, just 150 miles from the epicenter of the earthquake that triggered the disaster. The IRC has worked in Aceh since 1999, helping people displaced by the region’s civil war. “We have been able to be operational quickly, in part because we were already present and also because the Indonesian government has lifted its ban on international staff in Aceh,” Rupp wrote in an e-mail shortly after the relief efforts began.
The IRC’s immediate efforts provided clean water, sanitation, and emergency health care. In the long term, the group aims to build boats and distribute seeds and equipment to Aceh’s communities, which rely heavily on fishing and agriculture.
At other relief organizations, alumni also have been touched by the tragedy. Jeremy Barnicle *04, director of communications for Mercy Corps in Portland, Ore., was one of 10 Woodrow Wilson School students who traveled to Sri Lanka in 2003 to study post-conflict reconstruction. He spent part of the trip in villages on the country’s southern coast, one of the areas that would be hardest hit by the tsunami. “I immediately thought that at least some of the people I spoke with were dead,” Barnicle said, “and if they survived, their livelihoods were washed away.” Barnicle sat down to write an e-mail message to friends, urging them to support the relief efforts, and later sent the piece to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, which published the article on its Dec. 28 op-ed page. (To read Barnicle’s story, go to PAW Online: www.princeton.edu/paw.)
Some Princetonians saw the tsunami first-hand, and in at least one case, it caused personal tragedy. Kali Breisch, the 15-year-old daughter of Stuart Breisch ’74, was swept away and killed by the waves in Khao Lak, Thailand, where the family was on vacation. Breisch, a physician from Salt Lake City, survived along with son Jai, 16, daughter Shonti, 18, and Breisch’s companion, Sally Nelson.
David Ginn ’04, a Princeton-in-Asia fellow in Thailand, escaped to higher ground on Ko Lanta, a Thai island, when the waters rose. Days later in Bangkok, he and friend Brandon Hall ’02 loaded food, water, and ice onto Red Cross supply trucks headed for southern Thailand. “In typical Thai fashion, everybody was very cheerful and playful,” Ginn wrote in an e-mail, “and people generally seemed to be more focused on the task at hand than the disaster itself.”
Wijayatilake speaks periodically with her parents in Sri Lanka, who report that the aid is flowing. She realizes that in some small part, her peers have helped the cause.
“What has really struck me is how enthusiastic everyone was to help,” Wijayatilake said. “It helps to know that there are people out there who care.”
Ed Rogers ’87 was on vacation on the southern coast of Sri Lanka with his wife, Betsy, and sons Eddie Jr. and Wyatt when the Dec. 26 tsunami hit the island nation. Rogers, the director of structured equity finance at Deutsche Securities Limited in Tokyo, offered these recollections of that day:
The first wave: “Around 8:30 a.m. Betsy took Eddie down to swim in the kiddie pool. Standing on our fourth-floor balcony, I observed the ocean pull back about 30 yards into the seabed. Strange, I thought. After watching a few minutes, I put Wyatt in the stroller and went downstairs to speak to Betsy. When I reached ground level I had missed a somewhat larger than normal wave land on the beach. Betsy was chatting to an English gentleman, who later mentioned there had been a large earthquake off the coast of Indonesia that morning. The penny dropped, and I realized that the wave was the tsunami effect from the earthquake.”
The second wave: “Back in the room about 9:30, we packed essentials in two knapsacks. We changed from sandals to sneakers in case we were faced with running or climbing. From our balcony we watched the second wave land. It covered the entire beach area. We had missed our window of opportunity to leave. If we left, we would potentially be caught in open flat road, miles from any significant rise in elevation. If we stayed, we had to consider if the hotel foundation might give way. We decided to stay.”
The third wave: “We prepared for the worst, while praying for the best. I thought the waves might get much bigger, and people would by choice or necessity head to the fourth (highest) floor of the hotel. From our balcony we saw the third wave building 500 yards offshore. Local fishermen, who were securing their boats to palm trees by the beach, began to run for their lives. Seven or eight of them were caught in the worst of the wave.
“After a few minutes of watching and listening to what was going on at the ground-floor level, I went to find the hotel manager and offered to help. As people were being swept past the hotel, there might be a chance to pull some of them out of the water. The narrow fourth-floor hallway was packed with 50 to 60 people and their luggage. At the top of the stairs I helped a Sri Lankan family bring up a grandmother in a wheelchair. The top of the stairs became a bottleneck as many guests were trying to bring packed suitcases with them to safety.
“I could see into the inner courtyard and to the back of the hotel, where people were being swept past by the wave. Staff pulled gardening hoses off the second-floor terrace and were using them as lifelines — throwing hoses to people caught in the tsunami.
“At that stage we simply had to sit and wait out the water. Having done what was possible to prepare for the worst, we just hoped and prayed for the best. For the next four hours we watched the sea recede, and then advance again, on a much smaller scale.
“We were incredibly lucky to survive with our whole family intact. We pray for those less fortunate than ourselves in this tragedy.”
Photo by Denise Applewhite
“DON’T GO INTO MR. McGREGOR’S GARDEN: THE DANGEROUS WORLD OF BEATRIX POTTER,” an exhibit at Firestone Library’s Cotsen Children’s Library, offers a sampling of items from a collection of books, letters, manuscripts, and artwork by Beatrix Potter, author of The Tale of Peter Rabbit. The collection is an intended gift to the University by Lloyd Cotsen ’50. The exhibit features several of Potter’s “little books,” as well as Victorian picture books that may have influenced Potter’s work. The exhibit also offers visitors a free copy of Nip and the Chocolate, a small publication by Lloyd Cotsen that reproduces for the first time an illustrated letter that Potter wrote in 1906 about a dog who loved sweets. The gallery of the children’s library is open to the public free of charge Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and weekends from noon to 5 p.m. The exhibit runs through the end of February.
Don Eberly, founder of the National Fatherhood Initiative and the Civil Society Project, will speak Wednesday, Feb. 9, on “Religion and Civil Society: Common Ground for America and the Developing World?” Eberly also has served as deputy director of the White House Office of Faith-Based Initiatives. The free lecture will be at 4:30 p.m. in Bowl 016, Robertson Hall.
“Reporting from the Middle East: Whose Truth?” will be the topic of a lecture by New York Times reporter and former Jerusalem bureau chief James Bennet on Tuesday, Feb. 15. Bennet was the target of an attempted kidnapping by Palestinians in Gaza while on assignment last May. The lecture will begin at 4:30 p.m. in Dodds Auditorium, Robertson Hall. It is free and open to the public.
An exhibition of Simon Carr’s large-scale paintings with scriptural themes is on display in the University Chapel nave. The exhibit runs through Feb. 20. Chapel hours are Monday through Friday until 11 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday until 8 p.m.
Illustration by Steven Veach
Tides in the Labrador Sea, off the North Atlantic coast of present-day Canada, moved large icebergs in the ocean and contributed to climate changes during Earth’s most recent ice age, according to a University researcher and other scientists. Researcher Brian Arbic of Princeton’s Program in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences and colleagues at three other universities used computer simulations of ice-age conditions to show how the tides can be linked with “huge, abrupt ice movements” called Heinrich events, which occurred several times between 60,000 and 10,000 years ago. The research, published in the November issue of Nature, may be useful in understanding how changes in ocean circulation will affect future climate change.
Princeton engineering students will begin an exchange program in spring 2006 with Smith College, the nation’s first women’s college to create an engineering school. Six to eight students from each school are expected to take part in the spring-semester exchange, said Maria Klawe, Princeton’s dean of engineering. The goal is to better prepare women to enter and succeed in graduate school and engineering careers. Smith students will have the opportunity to work with graduate students and continue research projects at Princeton over the summer. Smith offers a different learning environment and interdisciplinary courses not available at Princeton, Klawe said.
Dylan H. Tatz ’06, founder and chairman of the Princeton Committee on Prejudice, and Robert K. Durkee ’69, vice president and secretary of the University, are the first recipients of the University’s MLK Day Journey Award for best representing “the continued journey to achieve [Martin Luther] King’s vision for America.”
Tatz, described by University President Shirley M. Tilghman as “a true builder of bridges on our campus,” was honored for organizing a conference on black-Jewish relations. Durkee was recognized for his efforts to ensure that “diversity is a fundamental and intrinsic characteristic of Princeton.”
A gift from bibliophile and music scholar William H. Scheide ’36 of Princeton has funded a new humanities building on the front campus. The white clapboard structure, to be called the Scheide Caldwell House, opened last year. It honors Scheide’s aunt, Gertrude Scheide Caldwell, whose husband James Henry Caldwell was a member of Princeton’s Class of 1898. “Bill Scheide has long been one of Princeton’s most generous and thoughtful benefactors,” said President Tilghman.
The Lauritzen family of Omaha, Neb., has made a $5.5 million gift for construction of Lauritzen Hall, a collegiate gothic dormitory within Whitman College, the University’s newest residential complex. The gift comes from Bruce R. Lauritzen ’65, a philanthropist and chairman of First National Bank of Omaha; his wife, Kimball; and his mother, Elizabeth Davis Lauritzen. His late father, John R. Lauritzen, was a member of the Class of 1940.
SEYMOUR BOGDONOFF, an expert in high-speed aerodynamics and a Princeton engineering professor from 1948 to 1989, died on Jan. 10, his 84th birthday. Bogdonoff’s experiments on high-speed aerodynamics aided important advances in the U.S. space program.