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EUREKA - Eureka residents are helping their neighbors, even if those neighbors are half a world away.

They contributed almost $22,000 so far to help build a school in Sri Lanka, which lost more than 31,000 people in the Dec. 26, 2004, tsunami that swept across the Indian Ocean. Ground was broken on Oct. 28, but fund raising continues.

"I am thankful for the generosity," said Kanaka Vijithakumara, a Sri Lankan native and computer science teacher at Eureka College who organized the fund drive. "I didn't think I could raise that much money."

Vijithakumara set up the relief fund just a few days after the disaster - even before he heard from all his friends and family in Sri Lanka - to help rebuilding efforts around the city of Galle.

He and his wife, Tilika, a math instructor at Illinois State University, came to the United States in 1979, but they have relatives in and around the Galle district.

"Everybody in the immediate family is safe, but we know some people who lost their lives," said Vijithakumara.

Originally, he wanted to bring aid to his hometown of Ahangama, a town about 30 miles southeast of Galle and near the southern tip of the island nation.

"In Sri Lanka, 74 schools were completely destroyed with partial damage to over 100 schools," said Vijithakumara. "I was hoping to try to rebuild a school in my hometown, but that project was already assigned to somebody else."

Instead, Vijithakumara chose to partner with the Herath Foundation based in Minnesota because he was familiar with its work in the country already. It also offered the best chance to make the most impact, he said.

"I wanted to select somebody who has near zero administrative costs," said Vijithakumara.

The school is being built about two or three miles south of Galle and will hold up to 200 students. Organizers hope it will be ready within a year, he said.

One year ago, the costs for building a small concrete school building were much lower than they are now. Vijithakumara said government standards have increased the costs to an estimated $500,000.

"We had to build the school according to government specifications and that will cost more," said Vijithakumara. "Since we have some local connections, we hope to be able to do it for a little bit less than the government estimated."

Vijithakumara said money raised here will help build and furnish two classrooms inside the school.

"The major contributions come from the Herath Foundation, but altogether we don't have that total," said Vijithakumara. "We are trying to raise some more money."

On the net

Information on the project is available at www.herathfoundation.org.

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