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Correction to This Article
An earlier version of this article misspelled the name of Samantha Havas. It has been corrected.

Actions Speak Louder Than Cash

Compiled by Jacqui Salmon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 22, 2005; Page B07

When a tsunami devastated the coasts of 11 South Asian and African nations Dec. 26, killing more than 220,000 people, the response from individuals and groups worldwide was swift and sustained. Among those who sprang into action were a high school junior from Potomac, students at a D.C. elementary school, an Indian American yoga instructor in McLean, two Thai restaurateurs, a Montgomery County agency worker and a Malaysian steel consultant in Gaithersburg. For them as for countless others, helping the victims was about more than clicking "Donate Now" on a charity Web site. They aimed higher. Rounding up family, friends, customers and classmates, they posted fliers, twisted arms, cooked meals, put on shows and, one way or another, pulled in the dollars. Today we profile some of the people who made extraordinary efforts -- and who are still making a difference.

WHAT: Elsie Whitlow Stokes Community Freedom Public Charter School

These boats are part of the fishing equipment that the Bullis School provided to the Indian village of Kottivakkam through an $88,000 fundraiser. (Rising Star Outreach)


TO BENEFIT: CARE's efforts for children

The first-graders at Stokes did chores in exchange for contributions from their parents. The second- and third-graders coordinated daily bake sales. The fourth- , fifth- and sixth-graders sold raffle tickets.

Raising money for the tsunami victims was a schoolwide project at this 250-student charter elementary school in the Mount Pleasant and Columbia Heights neighborhoods in Northwest. The student government aimed to raise $2,000 in two weeks. The adults were doubtful.

"I, for one, wasn't sure they were going to be able to do it," said Linda Moore, the school's director and founder.

But the kids exceeded their goal. They brought in $2,600 -- at a school where 90 percent of the students are from low-income families and half speak limited English.

The school's business partners, the Melrose Hotel and Cafe Asia, donated hotel stays and meals for raffle prizes. They allowed the kids to solicit donations at lunchtime.

"It was hard," said Maria Galarce, 11, the student government's treasurer. But, she said, "I wanted to help the people, and so I just told myself to do it."

The students asked CARE to use the money to help children affected by the tsunami.

"We thought about it, and we talked about it in our classes -- how it would feel if you lost your family and your home," said 11-year-old Michaele Dubissette, president of the student government.

Moore said the experience provided a valuable lesson that anyone can make a difference in this world.

"Economists say that in every community, no matter how poor, there is still great wealth," Moore said. "And I think that is something that our students learned."

WHAT: Asian Fortune tsunami relief benefit


TO BENEFIT: American Red Cross International Response Fund

It may take a village to raise a child, but it takes a network of friends, acquaintances, e-mail buddies, business associates, politicians and more than a few strangers to raise $70,000 to help those devastated by the tsunami.

Such was the effort of Wuiping Yip, a Malaysian cultural dancer and steel-industry consultant, and all those who organized a Jan. 15 benefit at Fort Myer in Arlington.

"Everyone is a friend of a friend of a friend," said Yip, 28, of the team that she galvanized into action shortly after the tsunami struck. The network stretched in all directions.

A student at a dance school run by one of Yip's friends raised $3,000 from her high school classmates. Yip asked her steel-company contacts for contributions. Yip's friend Chandra Briggman, who works in public relations, called on her contacts. Briggman's sisters, Wanda and Freda, also pitched in.

In the end, 500 people paid $20 each to attend the four-hour event sponsored by Asian Fortune magazine. Politicians spoke. An Alexandria man with relatives in Indonesia wept as he described his losses. Dance troupes from cultures as diverse as Ireland, Turkey, Panama, India and the Middle East performed. A sitar player entertained. Diamond earrings, Asian paintings and belly-dancing lessons were auctioned off.

Yip, who moved to the United States from Malaysia eight years ago, plans to organize more fundraising events for tsunami victims.

"I know who I can call for help," Yip said, "and I know where I can call for more help in the future."

WHO: Yoga instructor Shobha Sahgal


TO BENEFIT: Individuals in Pondicherry and Nagapatinam, India

This month, members of Regency Sport & Health have produced more than sweat at the McLean health club. They have donated money to Shobha Sahgal, one of the center's most popular yoga teachers and a native Indian whose mother lives in southern India.

Although Sahgal's mother wasn't affected by the tsunami, towns near her home -- Pondicherry and Nagapatinam -- were some of the hardest hit in the country.

Last week, Sahgal, 50, traveled to the towns to offer assistance with the funds from the health club's members.

This wasn't the first tsunami fundraiser for Sahgal.

Shortly after the disaster, she gathered $2,000 from friends and family and gave it to Sri Lankan monks who traveled back to their country -- where more than 30,000 people were lost -- to help.

This time, however, Sahgal wanted to aid her homeland, and possibly Sri Lanka, herself.

She envisioned simply driving along the coast and finding people who need a little cash to help them get through this terrible time.

"I want to go and hand it right over to the people," said Sahgal, who moved to the United States from New Delhi 30 years ago. "From my hand to their hand."

WHAT: World Bank

HOW MUCH RAISED: $1.15 million

TO BENEFIT: American Red Cross tsunami relief

When Viki Betancourt, the World Bank's manager of community outreach, notified the 10,000 employees at its D.C. headquarters that they could help tsunami victims by donating to the Red Cross through the World Bank, she was prepared for a generous response.

After all, World Bank workers -- 80 percent of whom are not U.S. citizens -- are known for opening their wallets when disaster strikes. Last year, they pledged almost $50,000 to help victims of the devastating floods in Haiti and almost $40,000 for families of the children killed and injured in the shootout at a school in Beslan, Russia.

But nothing prepared her for the $650,000 in pledges that poured in over the next two weeks. It smashed the previous record of $154,000 donated by World Bank employees for victims of the 2003 earthquake in the Iranian city of Bam.

The World Bank then donated $500,000 to bring the total for tsunami aid to $1.15 million.

Betancourt said an emotional appeal by World Bank President James Wolfensohn shortly after the tragedy probably spurred giving, as did the fact that many World Bank employees are from Southeast Asia.

"This is an area where we do work all the time," Betancourt said, "and it was devastating to see a lot of that previous effort just wiped out in a minute. So it was great to be able to personally help."

WHAT: Sri Lanka Association


TO BENEFIT: Sri Lankan organizations, schools and individuals

Lasantha Dahanaike is back at his desk this week, working as an investigator in the Office of Human Rights for Montgomery County.

But for five weeks, Dahanaike, who is president-elect of the Sri Lanka Association of Greater Washington, roamed the wrecked coast of his homeland. As he looked for ways to help his former countrymen, association members in the United States pushed the tsunami relief fund balance higher and higher with benefit concerts and dinners, as well as online solicitations.

So far, the association has spent $10,000 to replace desks, chairs and computers at a Catholic school destroyed by the tsunami, donated drugs for mobile clinics and bought sheets and mosquito nets for infants for $1,300.

This month, it will ship 5,000 bicycles to communities where transportation is desperately needed and spend $13,000 to build and equip a preschool in eastern Sri Lanka.

Dahanaike, 37, who has lived in the United States for 17 years, said the group also plans to construct some homes and rebuild schools in areas where the big international aid organizations aren't operating. He expects to be back in Sri Lanka shortly, hunting for more projects as part of the association's hands-on approach.

"We want to be able to see where this money goes," he said.

WHO: Restaurateurs Mel Oursinsiri and Aulie Bunyarataphan


TO BENEFIT: Relief efforts by Thai charities through the Royal Thai Embassy tsunami relief fund

In their two decades in the United States, Thai immigrants Mel Oursinsiri and Aulie Bunyarataphan have been blessed with health, prosperity and two thriving restaurants. Last month, they devoted some of the largess from their adopted country to their struggling homeland.

The husband-and-wife team owns the 10-year-old Arlington restaurant T.H.A.I. in Shirlington and Bangkok Joe's Dumpling Bar and Cafe in Georgetown's Washington Harbour complex, which opened in 2003.

In January, they donated $5 to the Thai Embassy tsunami fund each time a customer ordered the special at either restaurant.

Hundreds of diners took them up on it. And even those who didn't order such designated menu items as coriander crusted Maple Leaf Farms duck or grilled scallops "still gave some money," Oursinsiri said. "It was very nice."

Oursinsiri grew up in the coastal province of Krabi, which was hit hard by the tsunami. His family is safe, as is Bunyarataphan's.

Even so, he said, it was hard to watch the television coverage and the videos of the disaster that have circulated in the Thai community.

"It's so sad," he said. "I'm glad we can do something."

WHO: Students at the Bullis School


TO BENEFIT: Villages on India's southeast coast by providing fishing vessels and helping to rebuild

This month, fishermen in the southeast India village of Kottivakkam received a gift from the Bullis School in Potomac--68 catamarans, 20 other brightly painted boats and dozens of fishing nets, all to help replace equipment destroyed or swept away in the tsunami.

Bullis students, parents and staff members raised $88,000 last month to pay for the gear. The fundraiser was the brainchild of Bullis junior Ellie Prince, 16.

At the suggestion of Becky Douglas, a family friend who runs a small charity that helps needy children on India's southern coast, Prince opted to raise money to help fishermen in that area regain their livelihoods.

With classmate Samantha Havas, 17, Prince posted fliers throughout the school, gave a PowerPoint presentation on the devastation at an assembly and collected cash and checks in water jugs.

The two teenagers hoped to raise $11,000, enough to outfit one village.

But they sailed far past that goal.

With the extra money, they'll be able to buy fishing supplies for several villages and contribute $20,000 to an effort to rebuild an entire village, Douglas said. Her group, Rising Star Outreach, is handling the transactions.

But the Bullis school isn't stopping at cash. Accompanied by Bullis headmaster Thomas Farquhar, a half-dozen students--including Prince and Havas--will travel to the area late next month to help with the reconstruction.

The entire experience, Prince said, has been a "life-altering event."

© 2005 The Washington Post Company