UCLA students providing tsunami relief in Thai fishing villages
Twenty-one UCLA students will be working in fishing villages in Thailand this summer, helping to rebuild coastal communities destroyed by the devastating tsunami of 2004.
The innovative project is the brainchild of Michael Silverman, a postdoctoral scholar at the UCLA Institute of the Environment who conducts environmental field research in Thailand. Over the past several years, Silverman has met with members of the Thai government and representatives of non-governmental organizations, and all have told him the same thing: While the country is still in need of financial assistance, it is also needs field workers and researchers from the outside.
So Silverman, with the help of Rebecca Shipe, an assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at UCLA, organized a summer service learning and field work program for UCLA students.
As part of the program, students will work with village residents to regenerate mangroves to fight erosion and resist disasters, and to identify and propagate local species that promise the greatest biodiversity and sustainability. They will also contribute to a comprehensive survey and assessment of coastal ecosystems, water quality and endangered species and will map local environmental and social assets.
The December 2004 tsunami, triggered by the world's second largest earthquake, cut a path of destruction through the Indian Ocean region, causing hundreds of thousands of deaths, billions of dollars in damage and untold harm to local ecosystems.
The initial international response in aid and in-kind donations was substantial, but aid subsidies fell off as the area underwent what Silverman calls "compassion fatigue" and other disasters caught media attention.
"There were three waves of the tsunami disaster: the wave of water, followed by the wave of money and the wave of aid workers. Then, of course, it all began to disappear," Silverman says.
In addition to the rebuilding effort, Silverman, who has a special interest in the intersection of gender, sustainability and the environment, hopes the hands-on experience of living and working in small rural communities will give students the opportunity to better understand gender roles in these villages and, also, how the economic and lifestyle decisions of people in the United States and other countries affect the livelihoods and self-reliance of men and women in this region.
By educating American college students and other international partners, Silverman says, the disaster of 2004 can be looked at as an opportunity for Thailand to "recast the environment," helping residents maintain their livelihoods for generations to come.
Elizabeth Kivowitz Boatright-Simon,