By Daniel J. Fitzgibbons
As more reports come in from countries devastated by last week's earthquake and tsunami in Asia, the International Programs Office is urging faculty and staff to contact scholars and students in the region to determine whether they are safe or have been affected by the tragedy.
"There are lots of faculty who have colleagues in those areas or who have traveled to countries such as Thailand or Indonesia," says Pat Vokbus, foreign student advisor at IPO. "It's important for all of us to try to check in with those colleagues or students and see if they are safe."
Problems may be referred to IPO or the Dean of Students Office, which are ready to offer whatever support or assistance the staff can provide, she says. Information about students is particularly important, she says.
There are currently about 350 residents from the affected countries studying at UMass, says Vokbus, but, "Lots of our students travel over winter break, and we don't know how many have gone home."
Vokbus says 304 of the students are from India, while 32 are from Thailand. There are also four from Sri Lanka, five from Indonesia and seven from Malaysia. Nearly all are graduate students.
"We're fairly sure that we don't have any students on exchange in that area right now," Vokbus adds, but it is possible that some faculty could be in the area on an independent basis, "but there is no one that we know of."
Since news from the region is so fragmented, says Vokbus, "It would be nice if faculty could pass along any information to our office. If they hear that a student is safe or has died or has lost family members, it would be helpful to know that."
Vokbus also heard this week from Gov. Mitt Romney's office, which has been offering assistance to private and public institutions across the state. "They were trying to determine the scope of the impact on UMass and wanted us to know that they are ready to help if necessary," she says," That felt really, really good."
In the meantime, Vokbus and other IPO staff have been coordinating information and working with members of the local international community to get the word out about relief operations.
Information has been posted on the campus's gateway website ( www.umass.edu) with links to several relief organizations.
Campus employees may also donate through the University of Massachusetts Amherst Community Campaign (UMACC), by sending either cash or a check, earmarked for Tsunami Relief, to the UMACC Office, 305 Whitmore.
Haneef Sahabdeen, radiation safety services officer at Environmental Health and Safety, who is from Sri Lanka, is coordinating a clothing drive for disaster victims. A box has been placed near the University Store in the Lincoln Campus Center to collect summer clothing and blankets. Sahabdeen is preparing the donations for shipment.
The International Programs Office can be reached at 545-2843 and the Dean of Students Office's number is 545-2684.