For the College’s South Asian Students Association (SASA), April 25 was supposed to be a day to purely celebrate the spring festival Holi. Students gathered on Paresky lawn to throw colored powders at each other in celebration of the festival of colors. However, that very night, news reached Williamstown of the deadly earthquake in Nepal, and SASA quickly changed gears to spring into action.
Spearheading the group’s response was board member Shaan Amin ’15. Amin immediately talked to the chaplain’s office about holding a vigil as his six other board members began planning a five-part response on campus to provide donations and relief for victims of the Nepalese earthquake.
The vigil was the first event that SASA hosted in the following days. On April 30, about 75 to 100 students gathered on Chapin Steps to pray and show solidarity for the victims of the disaster.
“In thinking about the efforts, it’s not really about our group, it’s not about SASA or what we did. It’s about who you’re helping and I think it’s easy to get caught up in, ‘Oh, we’re doing earthquake relief!’ but especially the vigil, it reminded you how many people lost their homes, how many people lost all their support network,” commented Rani Mukherjee ’15, another member of SASA.
Mukherjee’s contribution to the relief efforts was mostly directed through the mango lassi sale during lunchtime outside Paresky on May 4 and May 5. With help from Professor Steven Miller, who guided the group in receiving funding, SASA bought lassi at a discount from Spice Root and marked them up to sell for charity. This effort garnered over $700 in just two days.
The week before the lassi sale, SASA held a donation drive and tabled every day. In combination with accepting regular donations, students could also pay $15 to enter a 3v3 soccer tournament hosted jointly by SASA and Williams Soccer League on May 3.
“The soccer drive didn’t raise as much money but we were able to partner in tandem with the donation thing so people who had done it for soccer encouraged their friends to donate even if they didn’t play soccer and vice versa,” reported Amin.
Overall, the donation drive raised $700. An impressive $150 was raised just on the day of the soccer tournament on location as people arrived. The biggest moneymaker and the fifth part of the relief efforts was the Mission Dinner for Nepal Relief on May 7. SASA received a percentage of all the money spent through swipes at Mission that night, totaling $1000.
Although there are no students from Nepal on the SASA board, SASA is for all South Asian students on campus including Nepalese students, of whom there are four or five at the College. Getting involved with relief efforts was “non-negotiable” for the group. SASA has done charity work in the past but nothing else this year and never any action on this scale. In total, Amin estimated the efforts earned $2800 to send through OXFAM to Nepal. OXFAM is a well-known international anti-poverty organization which is known for its “direct groundwork.”
“The reason why I spent a ridiculous number of hours planning this – and the other people spent all that time – is we do Holi and all that stuff and it’s a lot of fun for our members and for the campus, but the reason that this was so important to me and us is those sort of things don’t matter if you can’t be there for people when they need you … We haven’t been needed for it often in the past, which is why it’s never been a big thing,” said Amin.
Amin continued, “I’ve spoken about that to the people who I think are gonna have leadership roles next year on the board and they agree this is something we should start trying to do every year – not for Nepal, necessarily, but for different issues in that region like women in India, for example, struggling with abuse and for children in Pakistan who are having trouble getting education and things like that. It’s time to start – in addition to all the fun things because fun things are fun – to do something.”
Mukherjee agreed, “I definitely feel like we tend to focus more on just the fun bigger events …. I think another reason we have a limited amount of events is just manpower. But I think there definitely is so much potential for this group and we definitely have started to go in different directions.”