Snowmass woman heads to help in India |

Snowmass woman heads to help in India

Chad Abraham
Special to the DailyDebbie Pennington stares at a replica of an Indian god Tuesday as she contemplates her trip to India to help organize tsunami relief.

SNOWMASS – A Snowmass Village woman left for southern India Thursday to bring locally donated medical supplies, water purification kits and tents to coastal villages ravaged by Sunday’s colossal earthquake and tsunami.Debbie Pennington, president and founder of Snowmass Village-based Grassroots Asia, will travel for more than 24 hours straight before reaching the Tamil Nadu region, where more than 8,000 people are feared dead.With her will be a strong outpouring of support from the Roaring Fork Valley.She will be carrying medical supplies, including sterile gloves, syringes and plastic containers, donated by Aspen Valley Hospital; water purification kits provided for free by the Ute Mountaineer; and tents from Factory Surplus in Glenwood Springs. Pennington is also trying to secure antibiotics to help fight the epidemics that are expected to spread throughout southern Asia.

“The water purification [kits], because of the weight, is one of the best things,” she said. The kits are small, meaning “I can fill a duffel bag and be able to really make a difference.”I’m going to take what I can down there and see what we can do.”Providing life-saving support to some of the world’s poorest regions is nothing new for Pennington. In fact, she had been scheduled to fly to India before the natural disaster to work on another relief project in a northern town.But no one has tackled a relief effort of this magnitude. The death toll in Southeast Asia is predicted to reach or exceed 100,000, according to various media reports. The U.N. health agency warned that epidemics could claim as many lives.In Tamil Nadu, Pennington’s destination, hospital teams stood by to help the injured. But three days after the disaster they were still spending most of their time tabulating the dead as ambulances hauled in more bodies, The Associated Press reported.In the valley and across western Colorado, offers of support have poured in, said Jean Hermanson, executive director of the Western Slope chapter of the American Red Cross.

“The phone started ringing immediately first thing Monday morning,” she said. “I’m not going to say we were overwhelmed but it was certainly a steady stream of calls all day long.”People wanted to volunteer, people wanted to go to Southeast Asia.”Pennington said Grassroots Asia was founded to provide emergency relief, basic care and primary education for vulnerable children.”A lot of our work has been with trafficked children or children [orphaned by] natural disasters,” she said. “All of our stuff is volunteer and 100 percent of all donations go direct to the kids. I finance all of my own expenses and anybody else working with the organization does, too.”The former Mountain Rescue member will spend the next two months in India working on various humanitarian projects. In Tamil Nadu, she will deliver the supplies to non-governmental organizations that are only beginning to assess the situation.

“[Rescue teams] are still trying to figure out what they’re going to do over there,” Pennington said.Her itinerary includes stops in Tokyo and Bangkok before arriving in Calcutta, where she plans on buying more supplies. From there, she will either fly or take a train south into unknown devastation.”I’ve put a few calls in down there,” she said, “but a lot of the phone lines are busy. With a lot of this, you have to be a little bit flexible.”It’s a small operation, but if we can make a difference for a village then we’ll do it.”Vail Colorado

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