Tsunami Spurs Student to Action

Kelsey T. Leonard ’10 was on her way to work Tuesday when she learned, in a text message from her mother, that a devastating tsunami had just slammed into American Samoa. The neighboring island of Samoa—where Leonard had forged many close friendships while studying abroad last fall—was hit soon after.

“Immediately, I went on Facebook, checking on friends to see if they had any updates,” said Leonard.

She and an American classmate from her term abroad began furiously texting and calling their Samoan acquaintances, trying to find out “who was safe, who we’d heard from, who we hadn’t heard from.”

Although Leonard said she now knows that at least one of her Samoan friends is safe, she still has not heard from her host family, even as the death toll has mounted to 119—a number that could rise even higher as the search for bodies continues.



Shortly after hearing the news, Leonard began trying to organize a relief effort, starting with an e-mail plea for help to several Harvard open lists. She said she hopes to get in touch with her host family to find out “what they need on the ground” before moving forward with the relief effort planning, which is “still in its baby stages.”

Still, a number of students and organizations have already approached her about getting involved in the campaign.

Prathama K. Nabi ’11, the president of the Woodbridge Society for international students, said that the society will begin collecting donations at its upcoming functions, and added that she is excited to collaborate with Leonard in staging an event specifically for the tsunami victims.

“As an international organization on campus, we rarely if ever get to reach back to the communities we come from,” Nabi said. “Events like this help us give back to [those communities].”

Besides raising money, Leonard added, the fundraiser would also increase awareness among students on campus. She said that many students had been unaware of the natural disaster until she mentioned it.

“I think that was a strange experience for me after getting all this news, having it flooded into me via texts,” she said. “It’s just the Harvard bubble.”


The tsunami, unleashed by an underseas earthquake with an 8.0 magnitude hit the Samoan Islands early Tuesday morning.

Communication with the Samoan Islands, Leonard said, has been difficult because phone lines and e-mail servers have been flooded by people trying to get in touch with their loved ones. Most of the information that Leonard has received was conveyed to her via text messages and Facebook, but undeveloped technology and spotty Internet have made these methods unreliable as well.

“Right now, we’re just going by word of mouth and keeping people in our prayers, [hoping] that everybody is fine,” she said.

Although Leonard is not Samoan, she said she has maintained strong ties with the people she met on the island—especially her host family, whom she refers to simply as her “family.”

“My family took me in,” she said. “I was one of their own. They have four daughters, and I became their fifth.”

—Staff writer Michelle L. Quach can be reached at


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