Above: Sheila Embleton, vice-president academic, leads the tsunami memorial service in Burton Auditorium
York mourned the terrible toll from last month’s tsunami disaster in Asia and Africa at a special memorial in the Burton Auditorium Thursday.
From a sombre black stage dressed with simple floral displays, Sheila Embleton, vice-president academic, welcomed students, faculty and staff to the service which included representatives from some of the affected countries as well as members of York student clubs with ties to the region. Representing York President and Vice-Chancellor Lorna R. Marsden, who was travelling in the Middle East, Embleton introduced a series of speakers from York who expressed their experiences, feelings and reactions to the tsunami’s devastation and the death toll, which has reached more than 150,000.
Among them was Rudhramoorthy Cheran, right, of York’s Department of Sociology, who survived the disaster while visiting his homeland, Sri Lanka, where more than 30,000 died. Referring to a book of poetry he had written about the blue sea which was published three days before the wave hit, Rudhramoorthy said his most enduring memory of Dec. 26, 2004 was the colour of the water as it crashed ashore sweeping all before it. “It was not blue,” he said, “it was the colour of death.”
Another South Asian member of York’s faculty, Ananya Mukherjee Reed, left, professor with the Department of Political Science, spoke about the extent of the human suffering and the fact that it came after other recent disasters in the region, most of which are already forgotten by outsiders. “It’s not enough to have the science and technology [for tsunami warning systems],” she said, “we must try not to forget, [and] collectively work towards maintaining awareness of these disasters.”
Guests on stage included Iskandar Hadrianto, consul from the Republic of Indonesia, and Barry Yau of the Malaysian Association of Canada, who was also representing that country’s consulate. York Professor Priscillia Uppal read a passage from a poem by Czeslaw Milosz, “On Prayer”, and Nur Intan Murtadza, doctoral candidate in York’s Faculty of Fine Arts, played on the gender (pronounced gendair), a bell instrument which is part of a traditional gamelan ensemble and currently on loan from the Indonesian consulate.
Right: From left, Ashwini Doolab and Tanya de Silva
One of the most moving moments in the ceremony came when Tanya de Silva, a member of York’s Sri Lankan Student Alliance and a coordinator of the Tsunami Relief Effort Coalition, broke down in tears as she tried to describe the reaction of the York community to the destruction the tsunami caused, killing so many people. “Everyone in the coalition felt the same way,” she said, “feelings of universal abandonment and despair.” De Silva said she launched the Tsunami Relief Effort Coalition with fellow coordinator Ashwini Doolab, president of the student club Bharatiya@York, to help combat the sorrow she and other student club members at York were feeling. “I felt like this was something I could do,” she said.
Many student representatives attended the ceremony and were recognized for their efforts to raise funds and collect relief donations. Shehan Andradi, left, one of the organizers of the Ribbons for Rescue Campaign, spoke briefly about his group’s efforts to raise awareness of tsunami relief efforts and how it had already raised $8,000 in donations. Nadir Shirazi, Chair of the Interfaith Council at York, was recognized by Embleton along with Dilan Goenetilleke, a relief organizer at York’s Schulich School of Business, where students are collecting money for the Red Cross and providing drop boxes to collect food and medical supplies for the region. Wallace Sit of Asian Focus (Asian Federation of Charitable University Students), Lukshmi Perampalamoorthy of York’s Tamil Students Association and Shiao Chong, Christian Reformed campus minister and president of Leadership, Culture and Christianity Club, were also recognized at the ceremony and invited to sign a book of remembrance. They were followed on stage by Tien-Lyn Lung, treasurer of York’s Malaysian Singaporean Student Association, Subir Sing of the Inspirasian Student Federation, Salim Chagani, president of the York South Asian Alliance, and Elizabeth Liu of Environmental Outreach.
For more information on Tsunami relief efforts at York and how you can contribute, see the story in the Jan. 4 ,2005 edition of YFile.