UI students hold campus vigil for earthquake victims in China

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By Michelle Kim, The Daily Iowan

Thousands of miles from Iowa, an earthquake struck China last week, but some University of Iowa students still felt the impact.

On April 20, a magnitude 7.0 earthquake hit the center of Ya’an, located in the southwestern Chinese province of Sichuan, killing more than 192 people and leaving more than 11,000 injured, according to the Associated Press.

On Thursday night, approximately 100 students each held a white carnation as they encircled the candles that formed a heart shape in the middle of the Kautz Plaza. They then prayed for the victims at Ya’an.

Yashu Gou, a UI student from China, said she experienced the Wenchuan earthquake in China five years ago and hearing that another earthquake hit China makes her sad for those who experienced losses.

However, this time, Guo said her mother was roughly 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) away from the center of the earthquake.

“My mom was actually [near the earthquake area],” Guo said. “But she was in the car, so everything was fine. She saw it, felt it, but she’s OK.”

Downing Thomas, the dean of International Programs, said he wanted to encourage the students who attended the event, and he was impressed by how quickly people organized to show their support for the victims of the earthquake, just a few days after the disaster.

“I think your coming out tonight is the demonstration of the strong bonds that tie Iowa and China at this particularly difficult time,” he said. “As well as the outpouring of sentiments and support you’re providing, particularly the area surrounding Ya’an, where the earthquake was strongly felt.”

Several different organizations came together to raise money and pray for the victims, including the Chinese Students and Scholars Association, Greater China Business Association, AiCheng Magazine, Chinese in Iowa City, UI Photography Club, UI Fusion Music Club, and the Organization for the Active Support of International Students.

Will Cai, the president of the Organization of Active Support of International Students, said there are two reasons the people came together.

“Even though we are far away from Ya’an, we believe our hearts are tied together. We want to do what we can do to help the region rebuild their homes,” he said. “Moreover, we want to use this event to unite, not only Chinese students, but also the ones who are from different backgrounds. We pay more attention to the process of including everyone who cares to be the team. We want to show our spirit and how united we are.”

The UI provided funding for the event, and it was held within a $300 budget.

Sushuang Ma, the vice president of Chinese in Iowa City, said the money spent for the event was roughly $270, and organizers expect to gain money through the fundraising at the event.

“We will use this money and send it out to the American Red Cross and ask it to use this amount to help the people in Ya’an,” he said.

Many students, both Chinese and non-Chinese, joined together and sent their prayers and support to the victims of the Ya’an.

“It’s a tragedy, that’s for sure,” said UI junior Andrew Rietgraf. “I have friends who are Chinese, and we had our 24/7 campus group tonight, so I thought we’d come and show our support.”

UI junior Sarah Henry also said she came to support and pray for the people affected by the tragedy, and she did not know the seriousness until she read the statistics on how bad the effect was.

At the end of the event, students raised more than $4,800, not including the 640 Chinese yuans. Roughly 300 students donated money, Ma said.

“Unfortunately, natural disasters strike all of us,” Thomas said. “We had the Iowa City floods of 2008, so no one is immune from the natural disasters. I think that’s one reason that everyone can feel something when they know that people are suffering from somewhere else in the world.”

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