March 2007 Issue
A little piece of Wooster, Ohio, is thriving on the other side of the globe, thanks to an effort to help those whose lives were washed away in the 2004 tsunami. Last year, the northeastern Ohio community of Wooster adopted the southeastern Indian village of Pudupattinam and raised $100,000 in relief aid.
The people of Pudupattinam have responded with the ultimate compliment: They renamed their village Wooster Nagar (the word nagar, means "subdivision").
The community spirit residents exhibited is special to Bala Venkataraman, who was born in that area of India and moved to Wooster in 1970. "The people [affected by the tsunami] don't have any money to give back," says Venkataraman, president and CEO of the Magni-Power Company, a metal fabrication business in Wooster. "So they adopted the name of our town for their village."
Everyone from individuals to civic organizations to students at the College of Wooster chipped in to raise money for the cause. The philanthropic Noble Foundation, created by former Rubbermaid president Donald Noble, donated $20,000. Wooster Nagar's new main street is named in the foundation's honor.
"Elementary school students donated three or four dollars each," Venkataraman says. "To me, that's equally as important as someone donating big money."
The village is now home to 26 families living in concrete four-room tsunami-proof homes. Fund-raising also made the construction of a community center and the development of a water-purification system possible.
Venkataraman and a small contingent of residents traveled to India in January to attend the dedication ceremony. "When we handed over the house keys to the families, every one of them said they hoped billions and billions of thanks and blessings would be bestowed on Wooster, Ohio," he recalls. "I feel so good that the community I chose to make my home cares about people that far away."