About 150 students, candles in hand, stood before the steps of the Harlan Hatcher Graduate Library last night in a Diag vigil for the victims of the earthquake that struck South Asia six days ago.
The Pakistani Students’ Association, the South Asian Progressive Alliance and the Indian-American Student Association each sent representatives to speak about the importance of increasing student awareness and raising money for the victims of the earthquake.
“You know about the tragedy now. You can’t say that you didn’t know,” said LSA senior Megha Desai, logistics chair for SAPA. “Dig deep into your pockets, because whether it’s one dollar, two dollars or five dollars, the money will go a long way.”
About 35,000 Pakistanis, 1,300 Indians and four Afghanis have been reported dead since the earthquake struck, and millions across the area are homeless. The 7.6-magnitude earthquake left substantial damage to the infrastructure of the area and prompted the United Nations and the government of Pakistan to petition the world for donations.
Many students at the vigil have family members living in Pakistan and India. None of the students’ families have been affected, with the possible exception of one Pakistani student’s distant cousin, said Nida Javaid, executive chair of PSA and an LSA junior. But the thought that many of them easily could have been injured or killed by the earthquake inspired the student groups to raise money for the victims, said SAPA founder and external relations co-chair Madhuri Singh.
The vigil drew members of more than a dozen South Asian and religious student groups, but the participants also included many non-South Asians, some of whom were passersby offered candles and the chance to participate.
“Right now it’s a South Asian issue, but we’d like to expand awareness and get a lot of people involved,” Javaid said. “A tragic event brings people together no matter what their background is.”
Many students said their families in South Asia had heard horrific stories about the devastation left by the earthquake. “My dad told me some of the stories he had heard from his friend, who works with a relief organization,” LSA senior Taha Qazi said during the vigil. “(The friend) talked to a doctor whose patient had lost all of her children, ages between six and 12, when their school’s roof collapsed.”
Arranging a vigil was the idea of IASA secretary Juhi Aggarwal, IASA member Priyanka Shah and Javaid, who decided to do something and met to discuss it shortly after hearing about the earthquake on Saturday. They hoped for an event to bring all the South-Asian student groups together.
“We can work together because politics aren’t dividing us,” said Singh, a Business senior. “These disasters aren’t man-made – they just happen.”
Between a Tuesday benefit dinner and donations through its website, PSA has already raised nearly $1,500, not including the money collected last night. Members of the groups held buckets at the vigil, soliciting donations from those in attendance. The organizations plan to collect donations and sell T-shirts over the next few weeks. They hope to remain active and prevent the loss of momentum that strikes many relief efforts, Javaid said.
An event at the local club Necto with proceeds going to charity is also being considered. All donations that the campus groups collect will either go to the President’s Relief Fund or the Edhi Foundation, two Pakistani organizations involved with bringing food, money and medical supplies to the devastated regions.
Students who would like to get involved in the campus relief effort are advised to speak with a fundraiser on the Diag or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.