By Mallory Sherwood, Features Editor
Afternoon sunlight streams into Room 505, a small high school classroom lined with computers. Cardboard boxes cover the floor.
Washcloths and hand towels of every color are tossed back and forth between the high school students, then folded and placed in one-gallon Ziplock bags along with hand-written prayers.
Ten pharmacy technician students and Margaret Salisbury, their adviser, are packaging the last of the health and medical kits to be sent to victims of the tsunami in Southeast Asia.
Salisbury, a health-science technology teacher at Abilene High School, wanted her students to do more than just send money. Through her work as a nurse for the past 38 years, she has seen first-hand effects of natural disasters.
“As I watched the early reports on the news, I became aware of how totally destructive nature can be,” Salisbury said. “I felt for those people left to fend for themselves, who had everything taken from them.”
Salisbury and her students are among hundreds of Abilene residents who gathered in January to raise funds and collect supplies to send to the victims left in the wake of the tsunami that hit Southeast Asia on Dec. 26.
The tsunami’s waves wreaked destruction across Southeast Asia in a way that is hard to comprehend.
The equivalent of the destruction in Asia would be if everyone and everything between San Angelo and Weatherford were destroyed, and the citizens of Dallas and Fort Worth were missing.
More than 240,000 people were killed after a 9.0 earthquake erupted off the coast of an Indonesian island.
Today, thousands of people are missing, and millions are without homes in 11 countries off the coast of the Indian Ocean, according to worldpress.com. Members of the United Nations expect for it to take a decade for this area to recover. The cost: $1 billion.
Make that $999,970,000 after Abilene’s contribution.
Twelve-thousand miles away in the city of Abilene, the people began to hope, pray and raise money when news of the tsunami came.
Abilene residents donated more than $30,000 with high school students contributing $3,500.
Salisbury’s students responded by making 100 medical kits in three weeks. She introduced the idea to her students when school began again in January.
Two thousand students at Abilene High collected enough supplies to send 96 health kits with the basic necessities needed to survive, four medical kits equipped with adult and children’s medicines and first aid supplies, and $1,400 for additional medical supplies the students could not possibly find in Abilene in three weeks.
Originally, their goal was to collect enough supplies for 50 health kits and one medical kit. They were surprised when the students responded like they did.
“All of a sudden, it was like Bam,” said Larissa Smith, senior at AHS and treasurer of the school’s chapter of Health Occupation Students of America. “We had all of this money pouring in, and everyone wanted to help.”
Students and faculty from homerooms, the student council, drama and science departments, cheerleaders and others involved at Abilene High helped by bringing supplies or collecting money in the cafeteria at lunch.
Universities reach into their pockets
Across the city, students from three universities were also at work.
College students collected more than $6,000 through collections taken during Chapel and on the campuses, through a benefit dinner for landmine removal and through a Christian concert to take place in March.
Several weeks ago, the students at ACU raised $4,000 during Chapel to give to Healing Hands International, which will use the money to create medical kits and buy medical supplies.
Wayne Barnard, dean of Campus Life, said students responded well because they’re interested in helping others. The donation in Chapel helped students to contribute monetarily to the relief aid if they had not had the chance yet.
Barnard also said students are continuing to pray for the efforts in Asia. Several students are planning to travel to the affected countries during the summer. One student has taken the semester off to serve with his grandparents in Thailand.
Meanwhile, McMurry University raised money at a benefit dinner at the beginning of February to go toward removing landmines from the stricken area.
Adopt a Minefield, an organization that works to remove landmines from towns where civilians could be hurt, estimates between 45 and 70 million landmines are in 90 countries, including those affected by the tsunami.
The money collected in Abilene will help Adopt a Minefield remove landmines from areas where tsunami victims are being relocated, said Dr. Tina Bertrand, assistant professor of political science and director of the model United Nations program at McMurry University.
Families relocated to new regions of Asia may not be safe, Bertrand said. Many of these locations might contain landmines that moved when the waves hit.
“As horrible as the disaster already is,” Bertrand said, “to have people think that they’re in a safe place after they have been moved away from most of the destruction of their home, into places where landmines are now floating freely and undetected, is a disaster waiting to happen.”
Proceeds from the dinner and the more than $2,000 collected by the student council will go towards this effort.
Down the block from ACU, students at Hardin-Simmons University have been collecting money in paint cans donated by Home Depot.
The university also plans to have a Christian concert on campus in March, with the opportunity for students and members of the community to continue donating, said Forest McMillan, director of the Student Development Office at Hardin-Simmons.
American Red Cross asks for help
Citizens of Abilene have also been donating money to go to tsunami victims through the American Red Cross.
In Abilene, the Red Cross raised $30,000 to send to the countries hit the hardest: Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Maldives. People in the community donated money at several locations in Abilene, including the Mall of Abilene; others simply sent money to the Red Cross.
“[Help has] been huge for the tsunami effort in Abilene,” said Aaron Vannoy, regional director of the American Red Cross. “It is due to the media frenzy worldwide. So many people were affected, and it was on the news 10 times a day for four weeks.
“Abilene is always good about helping out where they can when they know of a need.”
Help has also come from places besides Abilene.
Internationally, more than $1 billion has been pledged to aid the Red Cross in meeting the costs of its relief programs for the next 18 months, and $236 million has come from America, Vannoy said.
He said more than 9,000 volunteers are on the ground in Asia working to rebuild the countries, looking for lost family members and aiding the clean up effort.
“A lot of the coastal areas are completely rebuilding where they were wiped out,” Vannoy said. “Some communities are not back to 100 percent, but they are operating still. Others are so completely devastated that they are just now rebuilding.”
Progress has been made through the American Red Cross, the largest volunteer organization in the world, and other organizations and countries around the world.
In only 30 days, enough money had been pledged worldwide to cover the costs of the entire relief projects begun by the Red Cross. Millions of victims are being fed; 500,000 have received life-saving aid. Teachers are being trained in more than 100 schools to provide psychological aid to the students mourning the loss of classmates.
In time, the people in Southeast Asia will be able to return to a state of normalcy. Many will continue searching for their loved ones and many will be able to relocate in a rebuilt city.
In Abilene, students of every age have learned a lesson of sacrifice and responsibility.
“This was important to do personally because part of my faith is to be a doer of the Word,” Salisbury said. “As a teacher, it is important that the students don’t feel a sense of helplessness to be able to change the future. They can and will change the future.”