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Students lead vigil recognizing crisis in Japan

Despite the 7,000 miles that separate Durham and Japan, the powerful tremors from last Friday’s devastating 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami are still felt on Duke’s campus.

In an effort to address the emotional damage of the recent crisis, alpha Kappa Delta Phi sorority will host a candlelight vigil on the Duke Chapel steps tonight at 8 p.m. The vigil is just one of a series of events organized by student groups aimed to relieve economic and environmental damage caused by the natural disaster.

“Having an event that is more emotionally significant than just collecting money is important at a time like this,” said sophomore Dawn Zhao, the sorority’s vice president of service. “We all thought it would be nice to have a really simple event that people could go to and take part in an emotional experience and pray for those affected by the tragedy in Japan.”

The event will mark the kickoff of AKDPhi’s project dedicated to economic relief for Japan titled “Wish For Japan,” Zhao said. Based on the Japanese legend that folding 1,000 paper cranes will cause a wish to come true, the event will aim to collect 1,000 cranes from the Duke community by next Friday. AKDPhi is also reaching out to local businesses to donate funds to Direct Relief International, which sends medical equipment to respond to global crises.

Other groups, like the Asian Student Association and Kappa Phi Lambda sorority, are also raising funds to contribute to Japan’s economic damage, which is now estimated to be as much as $150 billion. Kappa Phi Lambda has taken action since Sunday by asking students to donate money to International Medical Corps in exchange for paper cranes.

Sophomore Derek Mong, a member of ASA, said the group will participate in the vigil and plans to organize a fundraiser for next week.

“ASA tries to be inclusive. There is not an existing Japanese student group on campus, but we do know a lot of people who have friends and relatives in Japan and there were Duke students in Japan who were there when the disaster happened,” Mong said.

Namika Sagara, a Duke post-doctoral associate in marketing and psychology who studies how people respond to disasters, noted that the economic damages should not overshadow the disaster’s environmental impact. With temperatures recently dropping down to well below freezing, victims of the disaster are having a hard time gaining access to water and electricity, she said. Overall, Sagara said she is impressed with the efforts by the undergraduate community to support Japan despite the small undergraduate population of direct Japanese descendents.

“It is a very different part of the world, yet people are getting together to help and I think it is great to hear that people outside of Japan really care and are willing to help,” Sagara said.

Organizations like Environmental Alliance are working to educate the Duke community on the ramifications of the earthquake. Japanese officials estimated yesterday that 15,000 people are dead or missing, and more than 350,000 people are displaced in the country. Junior Mikael Owunna, an Environmental Alliance member, said the group will be gearing its annual event “DISPLACED,” scheduled for April 1, toward discussing ways that students can help refugees in Japan as well as the millions of environmental refugees worldwide.

“The event is about bringing awareness of environmental refugees around the entire world,” Owunna said. “People do not see that it is a growing trend and it is something that with global warming is going to be a problem and we are interested in bringing awareness to this on campus.”

Dean of Students Sue Wasiolek said she is not surprised by the expansive student effort because she has always seen Dukies effectively respond to global problems in her time on campus. She said that despite all the current causes that warrant relief efforts, Duke students are capable of picking the causes that mean something to them and working to make a difference.

“We all get touched in different ways by different causes and different tragedies and we respond to what touches us the most,” she said. “There is a lot going on and there are a lot of people here at Duke who are willing to help, and I am very proud of the community for doing that.”

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