Tsunami not forgotten by CSUN students


For most, the 2004 Tsunami is a nearly forgotten memory of horrific TV images of death in far away paradises. It’s last year’s news.

For some, the horror never ended.

Avanthi Wadu Thanthrige, 23, CSUN graduate student in English, lost her aunt on December 24 over a year ago.

The water reached up from the ocean and changed her and her family forever.

“When the area overfilled, her dress got stuck on the gate, the water was coming and her husband tried to help her, she was not able to leave,” she said.

Her family lived in Galle, Sri Lanka a country decimated by the tsunami.

They buried her the next day, because people worried about diseases spreading.

Thanthrige said her father was devastated, his youngest sister gone in a moment, and not able to have a proper funeral.

My dad’s twin brother barely got away from the water, Thanthrige said.

Her uncle tells the story of how the water rose up to his neck and had to climb on top of a wall until the water gradually subsided.

Her dad was visiting relatives in Columbus when ocean earthquake happened, otherwise her dad would have been caught by the water, Thanthrige said.

“The house was flooded, it was very nasty, stinky, and got sewage on everything,” Thanthrige said.

Thanthrige was lucky to be away from home when the tsunami hit.

She was not the only one at CSUN who was effected.

Akavat Wirushsilpa, 24, graduate student in business administration, said he was still living in Thailand the Winter 2004 when the tsunami occurred.

Wirushsilpa remembered the chaos and bewilderment of the people who experienced the effects of the tsunami.

“I felt sorry for the people who lost their homes and property,” he said.

Wirushsilpa said the country was extremely effected, especially the island of Phuket, a tourist attraction.

“It was Christmas time, (and) there were a lot of foreigners (who) came for trips and most of them died,” he said.

Wirushsilpa said even though he was not physically effected, a lot of people needed help financially. He decided to donate money to people in the areas most affected by the disaster.

“It was a crisis time, and I couldn’t donate much, but something made a difference ? it was very sad for all the country,” Wirushsilpa said.

He said people he knew were effected.

“I have a friend who had a farm on the coast, and the crops on the farm were washed away,” Wirushsilpa said.

The tsunami, created financial and emotional problems for some CSUN students who lost family members and property back in their native homes.

Only a few students at CSUN were directly effected, but many expressed concerns, said Roopa Rawjee, foreign student adviser for Student Development and International Programs.

Distress was expressed during the spring semester was due to the property damage the families of the students had lost or were destroyed, Rawjee said.

“We provided a lot of resources (for students), we assisted them with opportunities, counseling, academic advisement, provided scholarships,” Rawjee said.

International Programs provided assistance to students who were affected either financially or emotionally by the tsunami disaster, Rawjee said.

“We provided them with immigration (status), we assisted them with applications to work,” she said of those students who needed to work due to financial problems caused by the Tsunami disaster.

The majority of the students who were affected by the disaster were optimistic, Rawjee said.

“We got positive answers, they have (a) very philosophical culture, they are very positive,” she said.

A few months after the tsunami, there were only a few students who looked for assistance, Rawjee said.

Six months after the natural disaster, some students returned home during vacations to visit their families.

“One student did receive assistance,” Rawjee said. “She did have a serious problem. She was upset with all the problems she had encountered.”

Avanthi Wadu Thanthrige, 23, graduate student in English, said the tsunami affected her drastically.

Thanthrige received a scholarship offered only to international students that were victims of the tsunami.

She “faced economic problems, couldn’t pay for tuition.”

Thanthrige said her parents leased their house in Sri Lanka to pay for her tuition here at CSUN, and due to the damage her dad was not able to continue paying for tuition.

Another problem for Thanthrige was that she had to take a loan to pay for the semester until she was awarded with the scholarship.

She said her last resource was her sister who ended up helping her with the money.

“I was really frustrated as an international (student). (It) is already hard because we don’t have family here ? I was very depressed for a long time,” Thanthrige said.

“I was distracted with financial problems and felt I was not giving the best (to) my classes,” Thanthrige said.

Thanthrige said it wasn’t easy to apply for the scholarship. “It was my instructor who really helped me getting in contact with the right people,” Thanthrige said. “I had a lot of trouble applying for the scholarship, I had problems getting to the right people.”

Even though the tsunami made a great impact on her, she said. It also made her strong she said.

“It gave me a lot more faith in my abilities to accomplish (things) and to be able finish my B.A.,” Thanthrige said. “I felt good, more confident. It made me stronger.”

Gabriela Gonzalez can be reached at gabriela.p.gonzalez@csun.edu.