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.