Ozarks Students Leading Relief Efforts

Release Date: 11/9/1998

Clarksville, Ark. --- The University of the Ozarks community has rallied around a Central America relief effort that has touched all too close to home.

Several U of O students and faculty have organized an effort to send medical supplies, clothes, food and money to Honduras and Nicaragua, two countries that were recently ravished by Hurricane Mitch. The storm, which triggered flash floods and major mudslides, claimed more than 10,000 lives and has left several hundred thousand more homeless in Central America.

To many of the U of O students, the disaster is more than sound bytes and film footage on the evening news. Ozarks has 19 students from Honduras and Nicaragua in its Walton International Scholarship Program, giving the tragedy a special meaning to the close-knit college community.

"It means a lot more when you turn on the TV and see what's happening and know this is the home country of a classmate or roommate," said Bo Funderburk, a senior business education major from Southaven, Miss. "It makes it much more personal and makes you want to do everything you can to help."

U of O students have placed donation boxes in several area businesses and churches. They also held a dance last Saturday on campus that raised more than $400. ARAMARK Food Services is donating food for a community lunch and dinner on campus this Friday, with all the proceeds going toward the relief effort. The cost for Friday's lunch is $5 and dinner is $7. Also, Baldor Electric has agreed to provide free shipping of the supplies to Central America.

While none of the U of O Central American students lost family members in the disaster, many were affected, including Alex Meza, whose family home in Choluteca, Honduras, was completely destroyed along with most of his family's possessions.

"It's been a very bad situation for my family, but I've been amazed how everyone at Ozarks and in this community has pitched in to help me and my country," said Meza, a senior marketing major. "My family is staying at an aunt's house now, so they are in better shape than a lot of people there."

Stories such as Meza's have quickly circulated throughout the campus of 530 students, helping the relief effort gain momentum.

"The great thing from all this is the way everyone pulled together to help," said Dr. Rickey Casey, a business professor and the director of WISP. "The cooperation from not only the Walton Scholars but from other students, faculty and even the community has been wonderful."

The university will dedicate this week's regular chapel service to the relief efforts and ways students and faculty can help.

"The University of the Ozarks is about service to others, caring for others, and looking out for one another," said Ozarks President Dr. Rick Niece. "The Central American students are important members of our campus community. Their sheer determination and unwavering faith are a model for all of us, and they have gained our love, respect and admiration. We hurt for them during this time of personal loss and anguish, and we are doing all we can to help them rebuild the lives of their families."

Cesar Romero, a senior marketing major from Honduras and one of the organizers of the relief effort, said he has felt somewhat helpless being so far away from home as his country begins the long and slow cleanup process.

"I'm just thankful we're able to do what we can here and still make a little difference down there," Romero said. "This is a way to channel some of our energy and concerns because we all want to help so much. And it's not just the Central Americans here. I've been overwhelmed by the response we've had from other students, faculty members and just the entire community. Everyone wants to help."

Otto Mejia, a junior business administration major from Nicaragua, said the devastated areas are in need of medical supplies, clothes, food and water.

"Basically the people have lost everything," Mejia said. "I've heard that about one out of every six people in my country are now homeless; so there's a big need for food, clothes and basic supplies. It has affected just about everyone in the country some way or another."

The Central American students agree that Hurricane Mitch's aftermath will impact their countries for years and years to come.

"Our country is already poor, and this just sets it back another 10 to 15 years," said Meza, who plans to return to Honduras over Christmas break to help his family rebuild their home. "It's going to be a long, slow process to get Honduras back on its feet. When I graduate (in May) I plan to go back there and use the skills and knowledge I've learned here to help it rebuild."

Donation boxes for the relief effort will be out for another two or three weeks, accoridng to organizers. The donation boxes can be found in the U of O residence halls and Mabee Administration Building on campus, as well as the O.K. Food Market, Holy Redeemer Catholic Church, First Methodist Church, Region's Bank main branch and Farmer's Bank main branch in Clarksville. For more information on how you can contribute to the relief efforts, contact either Meza at 979-2782 or Romero at 979-2785.