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Children at the Well

Events: Story Tsunami, Atlanta, GA, Jan. 22, 2005

Storytellers Unite for Tsunami Relief

Interfaith, intercultural event blending stories, music and dance raises $4,000 for CARE

Mae Gentry - Staff, Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Thursday, January 27, 2005

As stories of despair spill from southeast Asia, storytellers around the world are offering their gifts in an effort to help victims of the Dec. 26 tsunami that killed an estimated 225,000 people, many of them children swept from their parents' arms by the giant wave.

Last weekend, local entertainers gathered at a DeKalb County church for a "Story and Song Tsunami" that featured music, dance and storytelling. It was one of many events planned in coming months to benefit tsunami victims. Donations from audience members raised more than $4,000 for the Atlanta-based international relief agency CARE.

Similar events in Canada, Japan, Singapore and throughout the United States will benefit the Mercy Corps, Oxfam, Save the Children and the American Red Cross.

"We happen to be the first," said storyteller Audrey Galex, organizer and emcee of the interfaith and intercultural gathering that brought nearly 300 people to Central Congregational United Church of Christ on a cold Saturday night.

"I really believe that storytelling is a way that people from diverse communities --- people who don't know each other's cultures or rituals or beliefs or practices --- can come to know each other and begin to see each other as human beings," said Galex, whose Bet Haverim synagogue holds Saturday services at Central Congregational.

Besides Galex, who specializes in Jewish storytelling, among the performers were Elise Witt, who led the audience in signing and song; a troupe of colorfully dressed Korean children drummers; Martha Tate, who offered a Chippewa tale; Tersi Bendiburg, who told her story "Media Manta" ("Half Blanket") in Spanish and English; and Celeste Anthony, whose vibrant African dancing caused the audience to clap to the accompanying drumbeat.

Thai storyteller Tip Weniger began the evening by striking a small gong.

During the program, she recited "The Birth of Ramayana," an ancient Indian epic about a prince and a deity who fall in love with the same woman.

"I chose this story as a tribute to the children of southeast Asia," she said during an interview at her north DeKalb home.

Weniger, who was born in northeast Thailand and moved to the United States in the mid-1980s, visited her native land for three weeks last summer with students from the Atlanta International School, where her daughter is a junior.

That trip occurred months before the tsunami destroyed the beaches of Thailand's Phuket island far to the south.

On Saturday night, Weniger was visibly moved by the spirit of generosity that filled the church. Her voice quavered as she thanked the audience and sounded the gong during a closing ceremony that brought all the participants to the stage.

Galex, also a member of the Southern Order of Storytellers, is philosophical about the tsunami, its aftereffects and the global outpouring of compassion that followed in its wake, including Saturday's benefit.

"It's bringing together people who may not ordinarily come together," she said. "And I think maybe that's really the blessing in this."

For more information:
Audrey Galex, Roots & Wings Life Stories, Audrey@RootsWings.com, 404-486-7377