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Alumnus Returns Home to Help After Tsunami
By Tom Weaver
Article published Mar 24, 2005

When catastrophe struck his family and homeland, Saiful Mahdi G ’01 put his doctoral studies at Cornell University on hold, left his wife and three young children in Ithaca and flew home to assist in the recovery. Mahdi, who earned his master’s degree in statistics at UVM, suffered devastating personal loss, the deaths of 15 family members—including a brother, a sister, and his grandmother—in his home region of Aceh, Indonesia.

When he arrived in January, Mahdi quickly set to work not only assisting his own family but creating the Aceh Relief Fund, a grassroots, community-based effort to provide help where it is most needed. Backing for Mahdi’s work came from an outpouring of donations from friends and the local Ithaca community. His original goal was simply to find help covering $6,000 in personal travel expenses, but the fund is at $75,000 and counting.

Approximately 4,000 people lived in Mahdi’s village before the tsunami; he estimates that 700-1,000 survived the disaster. He acknowledges that his hopes for immediately mobilizing the community with the help of fellow teachers from the local university at first proved difficult. “Where to start? How to start?” Mahdi says in a phone interview while visiting his family in Ithaca during March. “When I got there I couldn’t even motivate my colleagues.”

But soon Mahdi’s community began to move beyond the devastation with ARF dollars helping to establish a mobile clinic, distribute relief supplies and rebuild schools. “Things are getting better,” says Mahdi, who anticipates returning to life as a doctoral student in July. “People show their resiliency.”

To learn more about ARF and read Saiful Mahdi’s “Journal from the Ground,” visit Aceh Relief.

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