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Michigan Credit Union League Home » Information Services » Publications » Contact » 2005 » 3rd Quarter » Helping Tsunami Victims  

CU CEO Takes Helping Tsunami Victims Personally

Denise Fox rides back to base camp atop a truck carrying 5,000 roofing tiles. During her time in Sri Lanka, Fox and her group of 15 finished four houses And began construction on two others.

Most everyone is aware of the deadly tsunami that struck Southeast Asia last December, which wreaked unimaginable havoc and left a death toll of more than 180,000. The scenes of the devastation were replayed several times on news reports.

Those broadcasts are what prompted Education Plus CU (DR) President/CEO Denise Fox to go beyond donating muchneeded
funds. She made arrangements to render assistance personally.

“I was watching Good Morning America every day while getting ready for work and decided that I wanted to do something that had an impact that I knew really helped families,” Fox said. “I resolved to make some calls stating that I wanted to go there. After all,‘People Helping People’ is our philosophy in the credit union movement — why not live it? That day, I made the calls and in about two hours I was told I would be able to go.”

Habitat for Humanity affiliate sign in Batticaloa.

She worked with Habitat for Humanity’s local office in Monroe
and the international office in Atlanta.
After preparations, which included numerous vaccinations for the harsh living conditions, she was off to Sri Lanka.

Denise Fox distributes gifts and poses for a photo with children at an area orphanage. “We visited the orphanage and had fun singing with the children
and sharing their schoolwork and artwork.”

Once she arrived, Fox was faced with the daunting task of working to provide relief while enduring the same harsh circumstances as those she helped.
“Living conditions were rough by our standards,” she said. “I slept on a cement floor on a thin mat with a small battery powered fan pressed to my face covered by a mosquito net. I found myself tossing and turning. It wasn’t very comfortable.

“As far as food, we were fed very well, mostly rice, fish — which I don’t eat — and vegetables. By the time I got home, I had lost 12 pounds. We never complained or even thought about it. How shallow would that have been given what these people had endured?”

Taking a break from construction, Denise Fox passes out candy to local children. “We left many gifts for the children, some of which were donated by credit unions.”

Along with the staggering human casualties, the tsunami brought many lingering environmental after-effects as well. More than 15,000 wells were rendered unsafe to use. In some areas,
including important national parks, the waves spread invasive alien species, many of which harbor disease.

“It’s hard to put into words the devastation we viewed,” said Fox.

“The magnitude of the earthquake was 8.9 on the Richter Scale. Homes were ripped apart and washed away, upon mile after mile of an area on the eastern coast of Sri Lanka in the town of Batticaloa. It tore at my heart to see nothing left of what once was a lovely peninsula with a beautiful beach.”

The island nation of Sri Lanka felt the brunt of the tsunami’s force. Nearly 38,000 people were killed and hundreds of thousands more were displaced.

“I walked along the devastated area just trying to imagine all of the bodies tossed about and what a gruesome sight that must have been to clean up,” said Fox.

“The government offered no help in building homes, so our group’s priority was to put part of the community back on their feet and into a home with a roof over their heads. Habitat’s Disaster Response Office works to rebuild the future for victims of war and natural disasters worldwide. We finished four homes and started two others.”

Denise Fox enjoys milk from a king coconut.
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