Sarosh Syed (Sri Lanka)

Sarosh Syed (Home for Human Rights – HHR – Sri Lanka): Sarosh is from Karachi, Pakistan. He moved to the United States in 1995 to attend Northwestern University where he received a BA in Math and Art History. After graduating from NU, Sarosh went to work for the software industry specializing in language translation and localization software. After a brief stint of traveling in Europe, he turned to the non-profit world. He worked with environmental organizations such as Conservation International, the Public Interest Research Group and social justice organizations such as the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project and the American Civil Liberties Union. Most of his Ngo work concerned marketing and communications. At the time of his fellowship, Sarosh was studying for a Master of Science in Foreign Service degree at Georgetown University.

The 2004 Tsunami: The World’s Worst Natural Disaster and a Killer Sales Pitch

06 Jun

I donТt leave for the tsunami-ravaged Batticaloa district until tomorrow, but I already have one tsunami story under my belt.

I went cool off at the beach yesterday Ц at the Galle Face Green, a long stretch of lawn facing the sea where hordes gather for weekend R&R. I bought some ice cream from one of vans lined along the road, and found a seat among the loving couples that gather here on Sundays.

A pleasant, elderly man wandered along shortly and helped himself to a seat next to me. He asked me the time Ц always a reliable conversation-starter Ц and after exchanging some pleasantries, he mentioned that he was living in a camp for tsunami survivors.

He had seized my attention. He told me how he lost his wife, four of his six children, and most of his belongings to the tsunami. He told me that he had been sick for four days because of the filthy water at the camp. He told me how devastated he was that heТd never go home again. My bleeding-heart-liberal instinct was in overdrive. УTell me your troubles,Ф I imagined saying to him, УYou have my ear! You have my shoulder!Ф

And as I equated his cheerful demeanor to the tenacity of the human spirit, it turned out that what he really wanted was my money.

УOnly you can help, sir,Ф he added, and went into the same pitch I have heard countless times in Pakistan. УMy children are starving, I am hungry, sir,Ф etc. etc.

Suddenly skeptical of his story, I offered him 50 rupees Ц not a substantial amount, but enough for a roadside meal Ц and begged my leave. He refused and walked away.

I donТt know if this man was a tsunami survivor or if he was just a drifter down on his luck. I donТt know if it really matters. But itТs a shame that as calamitous a disaster, one that begs for every ounce of compassion the world can muster, can fall prey to his sales pitch and my suspicious mind.

Posted By Sarosh Syed (Sri Lanka)

Posted Jun 6th, 2005

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