Cal Poly and the San Luis Obispo chapter of the Rotary International raised approximately $8,000 to aid villages hit by the Southeast Asian tsunami last December.
Collected on behalf of the Thai-based charity, the Center for the Protection of Children’s Rights (CPCR), the money was sent to help prevent child abuse and neglect internationally.
“In some cases, over half of a village’s population was killed, and most of the survivors were children without parents,” said Harold Kerbo, the social sciences department chair. “Since so many children lost their parents, we were worried about children being stolen and sold into sex slavery.”
The money was primarily collected from donations on campus and at Farmer’s Market, in addition to fundraisers and contributions from local offices. Kerbo said the money has already been distributed to help rebuild houses in two villages in Thailand that were destroyed by the tsunami.
“There are a lot of people waiting for aid,” Kerbo said. “It is very sad that so many people are living in temporary housing like wooden and tin huts. There is still a lot of cleaning up to do.”
After the tsunami hit, Kerbo contacted a Thai university dean and former professor at Cal Poly, Uthai Dulyakasem, who helped establish Cal Poly’s Thai Study Program to see how Cal Poly could help provide relief from the disaster.
“There have been so many other disasters since the tsunami that you almost forget about it,” Kerbo said. “People are thinking about giving to people in New Orleans instead of the people way over in Thailand.”
In addition to sending monetary aid, 20 students from Cal Poly’s Thai Study Program traveled to Phuket last spring to help clean up the devastation. Students paid their own expenses to work in the area for a week and make a difference in the lives of those still living amongst the rubble.
“There was definitely a somber mood being there,” physics senior Matt Fritch said of his experience in Thailand. “Our guide would point out the places where hotels used to be, where hundreds of people died. Being there made me realize how big it was and how many lives were taken.”
The students signed up to participate in the Thai study program prior to the tsunami but decided to still go abroad after the disaster and contribute to the relief efforts while they were there.
“As Americans, we don’t realize what happened. We see the pictures and videos but actually being there and seeing the vastness of the disaster, the complete destruction of cities ” it’s hard to come to grips with,” Fritch said.
Fritch explained that it was difficult to find much work to do in Phuket because they did not have the resources like lumber needed to rebuild the village. Instead of building houses, Fritch and the 19 other Cal Poly students helped pick up garbage and debris left in the villages.
“We live so far away we don’t understand how many people died in one day, we don’t understand how horrible it was,” Fritch said.