Sri Lankan reaches out from Aspen |

Sri Lankan reaches out from Aspen

Eben Harrell
Trent and Preethi Burkholder are surrounded by photos of Sri Lanka in their home on Wednesday. Aspen Times photo/Mark Fox.

ASPEN – A Sri Lankan woman living in Aspen has organized an event to raise money to help her country cope with Sunday’s devastating earthquake and tsunamis. Preethi Burkholder is a Sri Lankan pianist who has lived in Aspen for two years. She moved here to join her husband, Aspen-born photographer Trent Burkholder, whom she met in Aspen while she was studying at the Aspen Music Festival and School.On Monday, Preethi will host a slide show presentation of pictures Trent has taken during the couple’s numerous trips to Sri Lanka. The presentation will be co-hosted by The Aspen Institute and held at Paepcke Auditorium at 7 p.m. Tickets are $15, available at the door; proceeds will go to relief efforts.Sri Lanka, an island country off the southern tip of India, was devastated by seismic waves Sunday following an earthquake in the Indian Ocean. The Red Cross estimates around 25,000 dead in the country of 20 million. Disease outbreaks and epidemics could claim just as many lives, officials said.”As soon as we can raise the money, I am planning to go over there and help out,” Preethi said. “But time is of the essence. Whole portions of the country have been washed out, including most of the hospitals along the eastern coast.”

Preethi, whose mother lives in the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo, said she spoke to her family members by telephone on Tuesday.”It was a terrifying few days before I made contact, not knowing where or how my mother was,” she said. “As we speak, my mother is working with an aid organization over there. She said everyone is working together to help out, which is quite extraordinary for a country with so many tensions.”Sri Lanka was under Portuguese, Dutch and British control for nearly four centuries. After gaining independence in 1948, the country saw increasing tensions between its Sinhalese majority and Tamil separatists in the north and east. Civil war erupted in 1983. A fragile cease-fire was brokered by Norway in 2002.”Just watching the whole thing unfold on Sunday I thought, ‘When is this poor country going to get a break?'” Trent Burkholder said. “They were just starting to get back on their feet and see more tourists and then this happens.”The fund-raiser will benefit Asafo Global Medical Fund, an Arizona-based nonprofit organization that transports medical supplies to places in need. Asafo spokesman Hassan Ansah said the organization was stockpiling supplies for Sudan when the waves hit.

“Right now we have a 40-foot trailer full of medical supplies sitting here in Phoenix,” Ansah said. “We need to raise the money to airlift the supplies to Sri Lanka as soon as possible.”Supplies include gloves, syringes, water purifiers, blankets, antibiotics, and malaria medication, Preethi said. Preethi estimates the cost of transporting the supplies at $10,000, a figure she hopes to reach through a combination of private fund raising and Monday’s benefit.Preethi has undertaken three major humanitarian operations in Sri Lanka. In 2001, she helped build an orphanage in the central part of country. In 2002, she and Trent distributed school supplies to small villages in the north. Last year they distributed food and clothing to refugee camps in the northeast.The slide show Monday will include approximately 150 photographs taken on his trips with Preethi to her home country. “It’s a beautiful place. I think if people can see for themselves what this country looks like and if we can explain what it must be going through, it will go a long way,” he said.

For further information about Monday’s fund raiser, contact Preethi Burkholder at (970)544-1731.Vail, Colorado

Support Local Journalism