Students from 15 schools in New York City got the chance this month to question youngsters in Sri Lanka about the impact of the tsunami disaster in their country.
During the March 4 forum, conducted using interactive videoconferencing over the Internet, the New York teenagers asked questions of their counterparts from Colombo, Sri Lanka. The Dec. 26 tsunami, caused by an earthquake, affected more than 12 countries in the Indian Ocean region and claimed an estimated 200,000 lives.
For nearly two hours, both groups of high school students asked questions covering cultural and religious changes in Sri Lankan society as a result of the disaster and individuals’ experiences and reactions.
According to students in Sri Lanka, the devastating sea wave—which one student called “a big, black monster”—displaced 575,000 people and crushed more than 80,000 homes in their country.
Despite the “enormity of the destruction, we’re coping quite well,” one Sri Lankan student said during the exchange. Other Sri Lankan students praised the quick response of the international community and said the support has been instrumental in reconstruction. But more help is needed, they said, because the extent of the destruction has kept aid from reaching all areas of the country, and the rebuilding process takes time.
Many U.S students expressed their desire to continue providing help for reconstruction efforts. Others wanted to know how the disaster had affected the students themselves and how it changed the country.
“The reminder of that date still sends shivers down our spines,” one student responded. All the Sri Lankan students who took part in the discussion seemed to agree that the tsunami has fostered a greater sense of unity and humanity in a country that has being dealing with civil and ethnic upheavals for 20 years.
As for the students themselves, many said that they now have a different outlook on life and concentrate on spending more time with their families.
“Before the tsunami, I took life very easily,” one Sri Lankan student said. “Now I take things more seriously, so if something happens and I lose my family, I won’t regret.”
The forum, whose U.S. half took place at the Asia Society and Museum in New York City, was sponsored by the society; the Global Nomads Group, a nonprofit technology organization; and the tsunami-relief project Quarters From Kids.
A version of this article appeared in the March 16, 2005 edition of Education Week