FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
The East-West Center held a fund-raising show yesterday for Asian tsunami victims. This group performed "randai," a Sumatran martial art based on dance and drama.
Her closest link to those devastated by southern Asia's earthquake and tsunamis was a Christmas party, which a few Indonesians attended.
But the memory of their faces -- coupled with knowing they may have lost friends or relatives in the tsunamis -- was enough to compel Karen Peterman to help.
The Kaimuki resident attended yesterday's fund-raiser at the East-West Center for victims of the tsunamis. She was one of many attendees who did not have family or close friends in the ravaged areas but still felt a need to reach out.
"I feel really deeply affected," Peterman said. "It's just the outrageous amount of people killed in one event."
About 2,000 people attended the fund-raiser throughout the day, raising $50,000 in less than four hours, said East-West Center spokeswoman Susan Kreifels.
The center had already gathered about $10,000 before the event, and also has a First Hawaiian Bank account, which people have been using to give. The funds will be donated to on-the-ground nonprofits so that "every single cent" will go to the tsunami relief efforts, Kreifels said.
The center's fund-raiser included performances from students and community members who come from nations hit by the tsunamis. There was traditional music from western Sumatra, Thai classical dances and poetry written by Indonesian students.
Indra Vithanage of Kaneohe sang along with five others yesterday of her love for Sri Lanka, where she was born and raised.
Vithanage said her mother, who lives in a Sri Lankan coastal village, was at a temple when the tsunamis hit. If she had been at home, Vithanage said, she would not have been able to make it out alive. "Everything washed away," said Vithanage, who wore traditional Sri Lankan garb to yesterday's event.
"It's very hard to take in."
On top of the event's music, attendees were able to see a display of before-and-after photos of the regions hardest hit by the tsunamis. Toward the end of the event, students from tsunami-ravaged nations joined hands in a circle and said condolences in their native tongue. Audience members, reading off handouts, then repeated the condolences.
"I think this event helps channel grief," said Charles Morrison, East-West Center president. "Everybody wants to help. This gives it (the disaster) a kind of human face."
He said at least one East-West fellow -- Nurhayati Idris -- has lost relatives in the tsunamis. Idris' mother and two sisters died in Aceh, Indonesia, and she returned to the country on New Year's Day.
Other fellows have not yet been able to locate relatives, Morrison said. Still more are suffering from emotional distress, knowing their families have had to start over with almost nothing.
"It's so sad to see so much devastation," said Saw Ching, who came to the fund-raiser after being moved nearly to tears by the images of tsunami victims on TV news. "We are so lucky here."
The East-West Center's event was especially touching for Dwayne Meadows, a state-contracted marine biologist who returned Dec. 30 from Thailand after surviving the tsunamis. He was scratched up, and sprains in his leg and knee made it hard for him to walk.
But, he said, the music and togetherness were healing. "I still spend hours a day on the Internet," looking for news on the tsunamis' aftermath, he added. "I don't know when it's going to get normal."
Meadows, of Waikiki, was vacationing in a beachfront bungalow in Khao Lak, Thailand, when the first tsunami hit. He said he was trapped until a wall on the cottage toppled over. He jumped into the raging waters, rode inland and then was pushed back to sea. After the waters calmed, he found himself nearly a quarter-mile offshore.
To donate to the East-West Center tsunami relief fund, drop off a check or money order to the center's information desk or any First Hawaiian Bank. Write checks to East-West Center Tsunami Relief Fund. For more information, call the center at 944-7111 or visit its Web site at www.eastwestcenter.org.