|January 23, 2005 14:01 PM
An Extraordinary Friendship
WASHINGTON, Jan 23 (Bernama) -- Malaysian Dr
Mazalan Kamis, a post-doctoral fellow at Cornell University, Ithaca,
New York, has been friends with Saiful Mahdi, a graduate student
from Aceh, for only a year.
They live in the same apartment
building, their wives shop together and the children go to the same
school and play together.
They were on their winter vacation
in Chicago when the tsunami struck on Dec 26.
earthquake and killer waves crushed Banda Aceh, wiping out 34
villages and killing many of Saiful's family members, Mazalan, 41,
immediately came to his rescue and raised more than US$50,000
(US$1=RM3.80) in seven days with the help of his Malaysian,
Indonesian and American friends as well as the American community
across the United States.
"We first heard the news from our
hotel TV in Chicago. Saiful at first managed to talk to his uncle,
and when he tried again later, there was only silence. We cut short
our vacation and drove home.
"The number of casualties was at
4,000 when we started out but it quickly multiplied to 15,000 and
then 25,000 and by the time we reached Ithaca after a 14-hour drive,
40,000 people had perished in Banda Aceh. We were just stunned,
shocked and in deep sorrow," said Mazalan in a telephone interview
So far, more than 160,000 people have been
killed in Aceh, and nearly 70,000 in Sri Lanka, Thailand, India, and
parts of Africa. More than 60 people died in
Recovery and relief efforts are ongoing to help the
survivors and thousands of children made orphans by the earthquake
and the tsunami.
Mazalan started the initiative by first
mobilising the Malaysian-Indonesian community (about 10 families) in
Ithaca and Syracuse -- all agreed that something had to be
He e-mailed his friends, and his friends called their
friends, word spread like wildfire across the US, and an
unprecedented amount of money flowed into his
"Within three days I collected US$12,000. It was
amazing that there are so many people out there who are ready to
help. With the help of a friend, we created a website --
www.acehrelief.org -- and set up the Aceh Relief Fund. Saiful's
journal and photographs on what's happening on the ground can be
viewed at the website," he said.
Local TV stations and
newspaper reporters came to interview the two men and their
"The international community in Ithaca
came out in droves. We received money from Vermont, Washington,
Florida, California, Ohio, New Jersey, Indiana, Texas and New York,
from corporations, Muslim communities, church groups, and
"The website and the fund have so far
collected more than US$61, 000. It has been an overwhelming
experience and we are hoping for more because the needs are so
great," said Saiful.
"Saiful went home with enough cash to
buy supplies, rent a van and a small truck to look for his family
and to assist in recovery efforts. As he was flying from Singapore
to Medan, he encountered a 69-year-old retired British nurse, a
cancer survivor, who volunteered to help in medical assistance. The
van became a mobile clinic with the help of a local doctor," said
Mazalan, who hails from Pernu, Melaka. He is married with four
children aged between four and 16 years.
Saiful, 36, who is
married with three children, eventually found his sister, her
husband and their three children who fled the waves by hiding on top
of a three-storey building.
He is still searching for two of
his younger siblings and their families but believes that his
grandmother and his uncle and his family had perished in the
His mother, who is in Mecca to perform her
pilgrimage, has not been informed of the tragedy.
money collected, the two men plan to set up an "emergency school" to
continue giving the children in the area education.
plan to rebuild two tutoring centres, built by Saiful.
70 teachers in those centres, only 11 survived and very few of the
900 students educated in those centres are still around.
phase 2, they plan to build a boarding school for orphans and
Mazalan hopes to set up a foundation for the long term.
are being made in Ithaca to adopt a village or a district for
rehabilitation while two local teachers have volunteered to
establish relationship between Ithaca and a community in
Children from a High School in Syracuse are selling
black ribbons on behalf of the Aceh Relief Fund, while a movie
theatre in Ithaca plans to screen an Indonesian movie to support the
"I have never seen anything like this. The support
from everyone has been very, very amazing," said Saiful.
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