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Buddhist Center in Maryland Raises Aid for Sri Lanka

As relief efforts continue in southern Asia to aid those victims devastated by last week tsunamis, a Buddhist community near Washington, DC is helping out by providing money, clothes and prayer for their brethren back in Sri Lanka. VOA's Craig Fitzpatrick visited a temple in Wheaton, Maryland and talked with some of those who are lending a helping hand.

At the International Buddhist Center in suburban Maryland, monks are chanting and praying for the victims of last week's tsunamis. And they're also collecting donations of cash, clothes and food from their Buddhist members and the surrounding community. All of the donations received here will go to the victims in Sri Lanka, which is the homeland of these monks and the congregation.

Bhante Uparatana is the chief monk and he says people called him immediately after the tragedy asking what they could do to help. "This is a Sri Lankan Buddhist community here and we were all talking about how to help. And we're keeping everyday our prayers, chanting, meditation, practicing generosity and we encouraged other people, and our congregation, plus other friends to collect cash donations, plus other medical help, food and clothes, and water and all the items," he said.

One of those who's making a cash donation is Dora Lee Halperin, who thinks more Americans should be giving, especially during the holidays. "I think if everyone can think about how fortunate we are here and reach into their pockets and make even a small contribution, I think all of us individually, joining together can make a difference," she said.

And Bernard Young also came by to give a donation. He says he and his wife were shocked when they first saw the pictures from southern Asia. He says, "Oh my goodness, I mean it hit really hard. I mean these are people just like ourselves, you know, those are our brothers and sisters who were killed, you know, who suffered the way they did. And, you know, we wanted to do whatever we could to help with the cost."

Chief Bhante says that some of the people in his congregation will not go back to Sri Lanka because their families have disappeared. He says he's curious why so many innocent people had to die but blames it mostly on Mother Nature.

And he remains philosophical. Chief Bhante Uparatana says, "Life is uncertain. We are living in an uncertain world. This is a possibility, what happened. And whatever comes out we have to accept it." He adds there may be a positive side to this tragedy, in that the ethnic factions living in Sri Lanka are now working together after decades of bloody conflicts. He say his Temple will remain open 24 hours a day for those who wish to give to the relief effort and monks will be available for grief counseling.