Saturday, January 15, 2005 – Daily Record/Sunday News
By Jennifer Nejman
Dr. Vasudevan Tiruchelvam will travel to Sri Lanka soon to create a bridge between South East Asia and York County. The doctor said he doesn’t know how he will react when he sees what the late December tsunami did to his native country. He’s heard terrible stories.
A friend’s family had been riding in a jeep at a wildlife sanctuary. The wave swept the vehicle away, leaving the woman on a tree branch.
"She survived, and she watched her family drown," Tiruchelvam said.
More than 160,000 have died from the earthquake and tsunami that triggered it in the countries most affected, according to Reuters on Friday. Sri Lankans were more than 30,000 of that global total.
Tiruchelvam left Sri Lanka in 1978 and has lived in York County since 1983. He runs Leader Surgical Associates in York Township and performs general and laparoscopic surgery.
As president of the York County Medical Foundation, the charitable arm of the York County Medical Society, he has helped the organization contribute to the community. The foundation has taken children with cancer to an amusement park and donated to Martin Memorial Library and a summer tennis program.
Now, Tiruchelvam who goes by Dr. Tiru plans to involve the foundation and York community in a fund-raising effort to help Sri Lankans.
"I always felt that I am a citizen of the world," he said. "I have to go to my home country and see how I can help them for the long-term."
Rhonda Renninger, administrator of the foundation and executive director of the local medical society, said the board is making sure it has everything in place to donate money internationally.
"We’ve never done something to this extent," she said. "It’s not something we take lightly."
In the weeks following the tsunami, devastated countries have been assisted with aid and volunteers, who are bringing food, medical supplies and helping with identification of the dead.
Tiruchelvam is concerned about what people living in those areas will have years from now.
On Jan. 23, he will travel with The World Surgical Foundation, a Camp Hill-based nonprofit organization, to Thailand to help relieve doctors there. On Feb. 2, he will fly to Sri Lanka himself.
He plans to stay with family in the capital city Colombo.
During his stay of a few days, Tiruchelvam will meet with Sri Lankan doctors, lawyers and town planners. He has contacts through family and friends.
Sri Lanka has endured about 20 years of civil unrest. His own brother, Neelan Tiruchelvam, had worked with the government to give a minority group, the Tamils, more power. His brother had been well-known for seeking peace.
In July 1999, Neelan Tiruchelvam was killed when a man approached his car with a bomb strapped to his chest and detonated it.
"For a long time I didn’t even want to go back there," he said.
Because of his contacts within the country, Tiruchelvam believes that money raised by the medical foundation will go directly to projects. The medical foundation has no overhead costs, he said.
During his trip, Tiruchelvam will visit two towns in need of help that are located on the eastern shore Batticaloa and Hambantota.
The towns are located about 150 miles apart. They were chosen because they are on separate sides of the conflict, Tiruchelvam said. Through his aid efforts, he hopes to link them to each other.
"In a small way," he said, "we will foster some peace and goodwill."
Tiruchelvam will bring back what he has learned to the medical foundation’s board.
They will decide on a further course of action that could include building a clinic, buying fishing boats or sending local doctors to help.
In the future, he would like to see correspondence between Sri Lankans in those towns and York County residents, and for the towns to thrive.
"My plan is that in 10 years that these towns will be self-sufficient," he said.
On another trip with the International Medical Health Organization, Rebekah Hinton, 27, and her fiance Michael Malave, 39, of Springettsbury Township, will travel to Sri Lanka with nine other doctors.
Hinton, who served with the Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic, and Malave, who works as an optometrist at the Wal-Mart on East Market Street, will help treat eye injuries and do whatever else is needed.
Malave said he has never gone on a volunteer mission. He wants to represent the United States and show the world that Americans care.