Students respond to Pacific tsunami

By Rita Totten , Staff Writer

Last week’s tsunami destroyed hundreds of families in the Pacific Islands, but students as far away as the U are reeling from its impact.

About 22 U students and one staff member have lost family, friends and neighbors after a tsunami killed at least 165 people in the Samoan islands.

Sealver Siliga, a defensive tackle for the Ute football team, lost eight family members. Offensive Lineman Neli A’asa lost three members of his family and his hometown. David Kinikini, a graduate student, lost three nieces and a nephew.

“They were in school when they were taken in the tsunami wave,” Kinikini said. “Their uncle has been pulling up everything. He hasn’t sat down in 48 hours, hoping one of his daughters is under (the rubble).”

Kinikini isn’t taking the tragedy sitting down either. In response to the tsunami, student groups on campus are coming together to assist in the relief efforts.

Although student groups work to support affected families across the ocean, the U hasn’t forgotten that its students are also mourning.

“I see it in their long faces, in the tears,” Kinikini said.

Kinikini, program director for the Pacific Islander Student Association, called an emergency meeting Friday to discuss what actions PISA and other student groups can take to raise funds for the islands of Samoa, American Samoa and Tonga. Representatives from the student government, Pacific Islander Medical Student Association, the Center for Ethnic Student Affairs and the Counseling Center brainstormed ways to raise funds for the island nations.

Kinikini said monetary donations are what the islands need most right now. Because so much of the economic structure in the islands has been destroyed, stimulating the economy is vital to rebuilding the survivors’ way of life. He said nations have taken care of food and shelter, but the tuna industry in the region was hit hard, leaving thousands instantly unemployed. Donations will also help families purchase hygiene kits in the affected areas as another way to support their economy.

“Even our change will help a couple families,” Kinikini said. “That’s a lot of money for what’s pocket change for us.”

PISA and PISMA are setting up collection jars and are trying to work out a cultural celebration night to raise money for the relief efforts, though a concrete date has not been set.

In addition to raising funds, a luau would serve as a way to bring hope and happiness to suffering students, Kinikini said.

The Utah Office of Ethnic Affairs and the Utah Labor Commission are working on a website, called The Samoan Relief Wave, to assist and inform Utahns about what they can do to help.

Utah football head coach Kyle Whittingham, who was present at the meeting Friday, said the team is doing what it can to support the players and the relief efforts. For instance, Whittingham said the football team is fully supporting The Samoan Relief Wave.

“They have our sympathy,” Whittingham said. “Utah football is a family.”

The Counseling Center encourages anyone to walk in and vent. The U football team is giving its affected members time off to mourn with their families, Whittingham said. But they’ll be back in time to return to the field stronger than ever, he said.

“Time heals all wounds,” Whittingham said.

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Associated Press

Emergency workers gather around a body found in Lalomanu, along Samoa?s southeast coast, on Saturday. Students and staff at the U are feeling the effects of Tuesday?s deadly tsunami in the South Pacific.

Thien Sok/The Daily Utah Chronicle

David Kinikini, program director of the Pacific Islander Student Association, called a meeting Friday to discuss ways students could raise funds for the relief effort. The groups have set up collection jars and are working on setting up a cultural celebration night as well.