By Ted Waddell
GRAHAMSVILLE February 11, 2005 On December 26, 2004, a 9.0-magnitude earthquake spawned killer waves that inundated 11 nations of southern Asia.
After the raging waters of the tsunami subsided, the death toll stood at an estimated 160,000 to 178,000 souls swept away, and grieving people wondered about the fate of 26,000 to 140,000 missing relatives.
When the media descended upon the survivors as they tried to deal with the devastating losses, the world started to get a clear picture of the extent of the natural disaster.
A few weeks later, the international press had moved on to other crises around the globe, and news of the tsunami slipped to the back pages.
But a small cadre of 9th graders at Tri-Valley Central School didn't forget.
When Gina Rizzuto learned about the tragedy, she talked it over with her classmate Amber Wynkoop and came up with the idea of forming a tsunami victims relief committee.
In the wake of getting approval from Lynn Malley, their 9th grade global history teacher, and High School Principal Ken Sherman, the students got the nod to set up a committee consisting of fellow freshmen Katelyn Frost, Jenny Watson, Emily Hough, Addie Frost, Eddie Gerwer and Kristina McKay.
Rizzuto came up with the concept for creating a Powerpoint slide show as an educational high school fundraiser while watching the disaster unfold on television and later viewing the path of the destruction on the Internet.
"I saw a whole town wrecked and people running from the waves just before they hit," she recalled.
"I saw people holding their kids on their shoulders, screaming. . . . It was horrible," added Rizzuto.
One thing led to another, and she put together a visual presentation of 12 slides playing at 10-second intervals to get across the message and convince students to contribute to the worldwide relief efforts.
On Wednesday, her slide show played non-stop in the main hallway outside the principal's office.
"People were just sitting there not knowing anything was going to happen," she said. "And then 'Bam!' they're washed away."
In addition to watching the program, students were given blue pieces of yarn to wear on their wrists as symbols of support to the tsunami victims.
Later on, the relief committee will be selling plastic bracelets marked "Tsunami" to raise money for the victims.
Other recent tsunami fund raisers at Tri-Valley included guessing how much candy was in a jar, which netted about $50, and a schoolwide effort brought in approximately $600.
In order to see that the money was wisely spent on actual relief efforts and not squandered on administrative costs, Rizzuto did her homework on the most effective relief organizations.
All the money collected at Tri-Valley for the tsunami victims will be donated to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF).
According to Malley, a morning program on the Internet reported that only 25 percent of pledged donations for disaster relief have actually come through as promised by the world's leaders.
"It's slowly getting to the fade-out point," she lamented.
But not if Rizzuto and the freshmen tsunami victims committee have anything to say about it.
"I'm so pleased to see a group of students who are concerned about others," said Malley. "This is an ongoing effort, and they're not going to let it go."
As principal of the high school, Sherman said the project showed a lot of initiative on Rizzuto's part and "how much kids are concerned about what's going on in the world around them."
"It's an effort by a student to say, 'Hey, we're aware of what happened, and although we can't change it, we can educate people about how devastating it was,'" he added.
In summing up her reaction to the tsunami, Rizzuto said, "Families were torn apart, parents are looking for the children and a lot of kids were orphaned.
"Even after I graduate in 2008, those people are still going to need help," she said.