Reaching Across the World

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They now call America their home, but a part of their hearts will always remain in the land of their birth, whether it be Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam or the Philippines.

Just like the rest of the world, members of the Asia American Coalition here in Bay County are pouring their hearts into the tsunami relief effort.

There are plenty of organizations collecting money for the relief effort in Southeast Asia, but for many local Asian-Americans, they can't stand by silently without helping.

Steve Akiyama is the president of the Asian-American Coalition for the Panhandle, and he is helping to spearhead a fundraising effort.

"A lot of our family, friends are over there and a lot of them might have gotten hurt or anything like that," he says.

Kanjanee Colonel, the owner of the Cow Pot restaurant in Callaway, is a member of the coalition and more than happy to help raise money.

"I'm from Thailand and my hometown is Phuket. I leave Phuket in 1982 to come here."

She says many of her relatives are still in Phuket, but survived the massive tidal wave. The home she last saw is extremely changed.

"Not just buildings, everything is gone. No trees, no palm trees, no coconut trees. No nothing, just the land."

Kirit Patel's family was untouched by the tsunami on the western side of India. He says he's collecting money at the Lynn Haven Dry Cleaners for a good cause, but he's concerned about reports of illegal organizations not using donations properly.

"I'm on the board of directors with the Red Cross. This fundraising group is authorized by the Red Cross to help them raise the funds for this cause."

The Lynn Haven Dry Cleaners on Highway 77, the Best Western Suites on 23rd and the 'C and N' Dollar Outlet on 15th and the Video 98 store and the Cow Pot restaurant in Callaway are all participating in the local fundraising effort.

As Akiyama reminds others, there is always a personal perspective to any disaster.

"There's 150,000 people that are dead, and if you put it in perspective, that's everybody in our hometown."