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Tsunami issues call of duty for local woman


San Marcos Daily Record (14/01/2005)

By Jeff Walker

We all saw the images. We stopped in our tracks when the latest death toll numbers sprang up in daily headlines. But for one San Marcos woman, the catastrophe across the world hit a little too close to home.

When Poonam Rane learned of the South Asia Tsunami disaster, the Mumbai, India native saw only one answer to the pain and panic - she had to go and help.

"The gigantic tragedy made me sad and depressed like everyone else. The pictures on television all the time, the cry of children makes one want to do something."

And that's just what she did. Rane, who has a medical license in India from Grant Medical College, will spend three weeks in Nagapattinam, TamilNadu, one of the most remote areas along the southern coast of India, to help in the medical camp there. She will provide whatever medical aide that is needed, provide basic necessities to residents in the rural, poverty stricken area and try to help survivors cope with the loss of loved ones - a task she admits will be daunting.

"The one thing I hate is not being able to do as much as you wish in this situation," Rane said. "It will be difficult to help the mental health of any individual there. I think losing a loved one is the hardest part of one's life."

Rane herself is leaving behind her husband Nishikant who works at the National Job Corps Data Center. Nishikant says he is proud - but not particularly surprised - that Poonam has decided to go.

"I was not surprised when she made the decision to go, because she always had it in her to help other people the best way she could," Nishikant said. "Poonam strongly believes that if you do good to others, good will come back to you."

Her three-year-old son Karan will stay with her parents in Mumbai. She hopes to be able to speak with her parents daily and check up on her son, but won't know if that will be possible until she arrives. She says of all the obstacles she'll encounter, leaving her son will be the hardest.

Rane came to the United States in 2000 to attend Texas State University. She had just earned her Master's degree in Health Education days before the tsunami hit. Almost immediately deciding she had to go, she received financial assistance from Dr. Kody Kunda, a local practicing OB/GYN and a family friend. Since she is on a student's visa, she went to the Texas State International office to get her travel documents set.

"Ms. Denise Smith had to come and open the office on a holiday to help me," Poonam said. "They got things done so quickly."

This is not the first disaster relief mission for Rane. In her first year of medical school in Mumbai in 1992, a bombing occurred and she helped in the blood donation camp. This was the first time she says she had seen a pile of "lifeless individuals," a sight that makes her sick even today.

But for her, its not a matter of enduring the horror of this disaster, it's just an inner-desire to help. Her mom, a simple housewife that worked very hard for her children to become well-educated, taught her a very simple lesson that has gone very far - helping others and expecting nothing in return.

"I am like any other person who wants to help," Rane said. "People should help in any possible way they can because every tragedy in any part of the world has its effects on everyone. Just care for every human being in anyway possible within your means."