HLS community reaches out to India earthquake victims

BY JANKHANA DESAI

Sujata Barai’s ’03 uncle is a surgeon in Ahmedabad, India. He is helping to provide medical relief to the victims of one of India’s worst earthquakes. Thousands of miles away, Barai is showing the same compassion.

On the morning of January 26, India was hit with an earthquake that measured 7.9 on the Richter scale and was followed by more than 80 aftershocks, several measuring up to a magnitude of 5.6. According to Reuters, the death toll has risen to more than 30,000 people. In addition, more than 1 million people have been made homeless. According to Associated Press reports, damage is estimated at $5.5 billion.

Barai is one of many of the students from the South Asian Law Students Association (SALSA) working to raise money and awareness for victims of the quake. “Being far away, there are limits to what we can do, but being South Asian students and especially at an institute like Harvard, we have a lot of resources and power that we can leverage and channel to people who are working on the ground,” Barai said. “A lot of it involves just keeping people’s awareness high.”

To raise funds and educate the community, SALSA has manned a table in the Hark, where students can stop, learn about the devastating effects of the quake and donate money towards relief efforts.

Jan Vild, LL.M., was one of those students. He felt as though he had to help. He is one of dozens of HLS students who have donated to the Indian earthquake relief efforts. “You see the pictures, you read the stories, and it’s just awful,” Vild said.

Al Lambert ’02 said he felt the same way. “A small monetary contribution is just a drop in the bucket,” explained Lambert. “People who are already struggling with the basic necessities have to once again go through another disaster.”

On Tuesday alone, SALSA collected nearly $200 in donations at the table in the Hark. Balaji Srinivasan ’02, vice president of SALSA, was manning the table Tuesday. He said he was inspired to help after his mother told him about other Indian organizations that got together and raised a lot of money. “The Harvard community has a history of community service and local action, so this would be an easy way to help so many people, just by contributing even $1 or $5,” Srinivasan said.

Prashant Deshpande, LL.M., also sat at the table to collect funds. Until this past August, Deshpande has lived in India his entire life. “I identify with the cause,” Deshpande said. “It is satisfying that I am doing something to help even though I am not back home.

As part of another effort by SALSA, Desphande also collected money at the LL.M. ball on February 8. Deshpande said he was happy to see his classmates contributing so generously. “Quite a few people also e-mailed and asked me about it and expressed their sympathies,” he said.

As part of its relief efforts, SALSA has many other activities also under way. Students from SALSA have solicited donations in class by passing around envelopes. According to members, SALSA also plans on reaching out to faculty and staff to raise awareness and solicit contributions. A fund-raiser was held at the “Big Easy” on Thursday with the combined efforts of the Harvard Graduate Council, SALSA and HL Central. Part of the proceeds will go to the Share and Care Foundation for relief efforts.

Organizers also plan on having a food fair fundraiser in March. Allen Wong ’03 will help with the March luncheon. Wong, one of the pioneers of the relief efforts, is a member of Direct Action, an activist organization focused on international humanitarian causes. He approached SALSA after the quake to discuss potential relief efforts.

“I have been really interested in trying to get increased awareness in international crisis issues and getting the school involved with relief of these types of occurrences,” explained Wong. ” I think too often our perspective gets too localized. It is nice to have a larger outlook.”

Direct Action will help out with upcoming fund-raiser lunch, Wong said. Wong explained that Direct Action has done such activities in the past. “We have raised money for an orphanage in Haiti,” he said.

Another HLS organization is involved with earthquake-relief efforts. The Harvard Law School Greens and its president, Cliff Ginn ’03, have also been involved with fund-raising efforts. “It’s not enough just to repair the damage, but to invest to mitigate future disasters,” Ginn said. According to Ginn, members of the Greens have made door to door collections in the HLS dorms.

With all the efforts so far, more than $1,300 has been raised. Sharmila Murthy ’03 explained that the money will be forwarded to the Disaster Mitigation Institute (DMI), a relief organization that is currently on-site in the devastated areas. Murthy became aware of DMI as a result of her work as a Fulbright scholar in India. She suggested the organization because of her personal knowledge of their work and because it was locally based. Murthy has spoken of the earthquake in her classes and asked for contributions.

“The response in my section has been really positive …. People have come up to me after class to ask me about it,” Murthy said. “Some people asked me to take around envelopes and put up posters.”

Because of her work in India, the earthquake raises personal concerns for Murthy.

“Having spent a year there, I have friends and colleagues that were affected by earthquake, and in particular because I was working with a women’s organization that was working with poverty-stricken women,” she said. “They are based in Ahmedabad and work in Kutch and rural areas.”

SALSA members said they hope the relief efforts and awareness continues. “The earthquake is something that we only think about for a short amount of time, and yet the recovery is going to take years,” Murthy explained.

Deshpande added: “We need all the help you can give us.”

SALSA plans on having a table set up in the Hark next week. If you would like to contribute to the earthquake relief efforts, please stop by the table or contact sbarai@law.harvard.edu or smurthy@law.harvard.edu.

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