Tsunami appeal: International solidarity – German school student raises funds for cwi appeal

"At my school, I collected €436.81 in donations for the Free Trade Union Centre (FTUC) in Sri Lanka in only two days," reports Gina, from Hamburg.

She explained to socialistworld.net why and how she did it, and hopefully her report will inspire many others in taking similar initiatives.

"To me, being a socialist also means to quickly estimate situations and to provide political answers to them. The Tsunami disaster in the Indian Ocean region is an enormous challenge for us as socialists. And I would like to express my respect for the work our comrades in South Asia have undertaken, as well as to thank the cwi for the work it has done, and the political material that has been produced.

"I think it is now up to me to, on the one hand, support the comrades in Sri Lanka, and, on the other hand, to thoroughly explain the political background to the disaster and to offer political solutions and answers to fellow students in my school.

"In discussions at school, I had to counter a number of arguments. Initially, a lot of school students believed that the Tsunami disaster was ‘simply’ a natural disaster and that we can trust the UN to deal with the consequences and the human misery of the disaster.

"With the help of the first statements of the cwi, I wrote an ‘Information sheet’. The sheet contained general information on Sri Lanka (The situation after the civil war, difficulties between the Tamil and Sinhalese population etc.) I also added the following demands which the United Socialist Party is campaigning for:

  • No religious, political or ethnic discrimination in distributing the aid
  • Democratic control over all aid and emergency programmes, through elected committees of workers and poor people in every area
  • The cancellation of all foreign debts
  • Money to be spent on relief and construction – not in arms and warfare
  • Effective tsunami warning systems to be installed

"Moreover, I had the intention to criticise the work of the big charity organizations, such as UNICEF. I wanted to make clear that it should be down to the workers, poor peasants and fishermen themselves to decide what to do with the money, through committees in order to reconstruct the region in a sustainable way and, of course, to guarantee that help reaches minorities and poor people. I also pointed out that the charity organisation ‘Brot für die Welt’ (Bread for the World), for example, uses 50% of each donation for administration and staff etc.

"Unfortunately, we were not allowed to directly collect money for our comrades from the USP because, formally, school laws forbid donations for political organisations. Therefore, the money was collected for the Free Trade Union Centre, which our comrades in Sri Lanka are politically collaborating with.

"With this ‘Info-sheet’, I went to the headmaster. Impressed by this ‘work’, he gave permission to organise a solidarity campaign. The possibility to take responsibility for one organisation in one particular country affected by the Tsunami, appealed to and convinced him.

"I photocopied and distributed the leaflet and handed it out to all school students. I also announced the campaign through the school’s loudspeaker system. The leaflet made it easier for school students to convince their friends and relatives because – as you all know- there sometimes is much more distrust in smaller organisations, even though I gave enough information about the FTUC, as well as a telephone number.

"Then I visited each class and discussed with them. I quite openly, without any kind of ‘censorship’, put forward the cwi’s analysis about the relationship between the catastrophe and the capitalist system we live under. In this system, tourism is more important than people and profit is worth more than our environment etc. Sometimes a discussion came up in which, for example, students from Iran compared the media coverage of the Tsunami disaster to the coverage of the 2003 in Bam Earthquake in Iran. Often, school students applauded our ideas.

"As an answer to this applause, I intend to start a new campaign in two months, at the latest. I will again discuss the role of the FTUC and the USP – their importance and their successes. The objective of that campaign will be to establish a long-term partnership with the FTUC.

"I received €436.81 in only two days by putting up posters, making calls and being present during breaks to discuss with students. I remitted the money with Western Union Money Transfer to Siritunga in Colombo. Unfortunately, Western Union is charging €26 to deliver the money.

"I urge everyone to test whether you could do something similar in your school, work place or university. Even if people argue that they have already given money, we can explain to them that their donation will maybe not arrive where it is needed. Whether because corrupt governments do not let the trucks pass or other organisations that appeal for aid do not have a political alternative and outlook and cannot give long-term support. We can explain the necessity for political campaigns around the demands given above. I am sure everybody will be ready to give another € again!

"And, by the way, it goes without saying that it is really effective to ask teachers in front of their own class how much money they are ready to give!"

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January 2005