Tsunami aid—the long view

EDUCATION/Penn offers educational expertise to tsunami recovery.

So many donations have poured into aid agencies helping the victims of the Southeast Asia tsunami that some groups have stopped requesting funds. Others have begun turning them away.

But even after the estimated $12 billion needed for reconstruction is collected, plenty of work will remain, and Penn plans to offer help in an area it knows a little something about—education.

Penn is working with several aid agencies to develop a long-term plan that would put the University to work in rebuilding the education infrastructures of tsunami-devastated countries.

“We are in the process of doing an internal audit, to see what kind of capacities we have,” said Nancy Brokaw, associate director of communications in the Graduate School of Education. “Believe me, it’s very daunting. We’re a huge school with a lot of talented people in it.”

The task of rebuilding is a big one. In Sri Lanka, 70 schools have been destroyed. In India, 82 schools were severely damaged and 200 are being used as shelters, not schools. In Thailand, where damage was less widespread and only 12 schools were damaged, only half of the nation’s students were able to attend school when it reopened in January.

Those numbers, and the scope of the devastation, spurred Penn to action.

Susan Fuhrman, dean of the Graduate School of Education, has been named chair of Penn’s Tsunami Education Relief Steering Committee. The University is collecting money that could be used to rebuild schools, deliver supplies to teachers and students or send Penn experts overseas.

Still, while fundraising remains important, Brokaw says the real work, for Penn, will come in the months and years to come.

“We don’t really have the capacity to be a relief agency, but we do have this extraordinary capacity [in education] that could be brought to bear to rebuild over the long-term.”

For more information on Penn’s efforts to help tsunami victims, go to www.upenn.edu/pennnews/tsunami.php.

Originally published on March 31, 2005