The Religious Studies Dept. recently confirmed that an international scholar who studied at UCSB last summer died in the Dec. 26 tsunami that struck southeast Asia, though no student fatalities have been reported.
Iskandar, who used only one name, came to the university though the UCSB Fulbright Summer Institute of Religion, a six-week academic program for university faculty from abroad to come to the United States to study a particular theme or topic in American society. The program’s director, Holly Grether, said in an e-mail that Iskandar died in the recent tsunami along with his wife and two of their three children. Iskandar was a professor of the sociology of religion and political Islam from the State Institute for Islamic Studies Ar-Raniry (IAIN) in Banda Aceh, Indonesia.
In the e-mail, Grether said Zulki, another scholar from IAIN who came to UCSB in the summer of 2002, survived, but lost all his possessions. The IAIN institute lost over 50 faculty members, Grether said.
Though some UCSB students were in the area when the tsunami hit, Mary Jacob, director of the UCSB Office of International Students and Scholars, said none have been reported missing. Jacob said there are 102 international students at UCSB from southeast Asia and 23 are from areas directly affected by the disaster. She said the office contacted all 23 students, via e-mail, to offer support or aid. Only one of the students did not respond immediately, Jacob said. The student was unable to get a flight back into the U.S. from southeast Asia, but was able to contact the office last week.
Picpac Karnchanachari, a third-year business economics major and international student from Bangkok, Thailand, said she was in Thailand when the tsunami struck, but luckily she was away from coastal areas.
“I was walking in a shopping area and a seller was talking about the [tsunami] in the south,” she said. “I walked home and then watched it in the news.”
Asanga Ranasinghe, a graduate student in chemistry, said his family in Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte, the legislative capital of Sri Lanka, was fortunate to be living higher than sea level. He said several of his friends are still missing. Ranasinghe said he first heard about the earthquake and tsunami while on vacation in Las Vegas.
“The very next morning, my wife’s granddad called,” he said. “From that point on I contacted my friends, but we have a smaller telecommunications network. It took me five days to talk to my parents.”
Ranasinghe said Jacob was willing to negotiate arrangements for him to go back to Sri Lanka to see his family, who is participating in the relief effort.
“My parents collect groceries and they are handing them out personally because this is a major disaster,” he said. “[The Sri Lankan government] have back up plans to do relief efforts so it might take time for authorities to reach [the victims].”
Ranasinghe said the Sri Lankan government is ineffective and corrupt, making relief efforts more time consuming, and people displaced by the tsunami lie in refugee camps and don’t receive much attention.
“It is a good thing that the U.S. has sent Marines there because they have already done a lot of work,” he said.