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Boy helps tsunami victims<br> Saying Christmas is a time to think about others, 8-year-old raises funds for Sri Lanka schoolchildren

Editor's note: The Christmas season traditionally is a time for giving to others and reflecting on life's blessings. In this week before Christmas, The Buffalo News is telling the stories of local people who have been touched by that spirit.

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Like most 8-year-olds, Bazil Anandaraj Ratnam enjoys sugary candies and television cartoons.

Yet Bazil is anything but typical when it comes to a young boy's appreciation of Christmas.

Aside from a book or two, the Olmsted School 64 third-grader has made no requests of Santa -- or his parents -- this holiday season. No video games, no toys, not even a bicycle.

Bazil simply has no interest. Instead, he says, Christmas is "a giving time of year" and people should be thinking of others.

The son of Sri Lankan immigrants, Bazil in recent weeks found himself thinking of children in Sri Lanka who don't have books or proper school supplies.

And he decided to help them.

At first, he planned to send the money he had collected in his piggy bank and from doing chores at home -- about $20.

But when his mother, Christobel, explained that such a gift wasn't big enough to make it worth sending around the world, Bazil's response was to raise more.

So, with the help of his parents, their church and his dad's employer, he organized a fundraising dinner and raffle that generated more than $700 for school kids in Sri Lanka and Malaysia -- two countries devastated by the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami that killed an estimated 275,000 people.

And along the way, he helped reclaim some of the joy of Christmas in the Ratnam household.

Ever since the tsunami, which occurred the day after Christmas, the holiday season has been anything but joyous for Bazil's father, Antony.

The deadly waves, which hammered the small fishing village where Antony was raised, killed his mother.

Antony was devastated by her death. He felt helpless to assist the survivors in his native land, and he felt somewhat guilty about having avoided the calamity altogether.

"Christmas comes and I'm always upset. I don't like to talk on that day with anyone," said Antony.

For the past several years, Antony didn't even mind working on Christmas -- it helped him avoid thinking about what happened in 2004.

And he couldn't bring himself to put up a Christmas tree.

The joy has been slowly returning, though, thanks in part to his son's unusual effort, which began only a few weeks ago.

Bazil asked his dad one day about what schools were like in Sri Lanka. Antony explained that kids there often can't afford books and other supplies for school.

So Bazil drafted a letter, which he passed around to instructors at the Global Book Hour in the Amherst Street Wegmans, a program he regularly attends on Saturdays.

"Some people had tearful eyes when they were reading," Christobel said.

The instructors quickly rounded up $83 toward Bazil's effort.

"I said I have no idea how to do a fundraiser, and then he started in Wegmans," Antony recalled.

Later, Antony introduced Bazil to his boss at Adam's Mark Hotel, who agreed to offer a hotel stay and dinners as prizes for a raffle. Some of Antony's co-workers offered to prepare the food for the fundraiser's dinner.

Then, at a Sunday service, Bazil donned a suit coat and clip-on tie and addressed the congregation from the pulpit to drum up interest in the fundraiser.

He talked about the conversation he had with his father and the impact it had on him.

"From that day," he said to the people in the pews, reading from his letter, "I started collecting some money. 'Christmas is the time for giving,' so I decided to give something in December through some friends in Asia to buy some gifts and give to poor children."

The fundraiser -- featuring a visit from Santa Claus, foods from around the world, and a "guess the weight of the cake" contest -- was cobbled together quickly.

Bazil, who aspires to be a doctor, showed up in his suit coat and tie, skipping around the hall of Buffalo Covenant Church on Kenmore Avenue, mingling with friends and having a jolly time.

At one point, he took the microphone to announce the winners of the contests and to thank people for coming.

"He's really a remarkable kid. He's very mature and smart. He's definitely a little leader," said the Rev. Beatrice Radakovich, pastor of Buffalo Covenant Church.

Members of the congregation, she added, have been touched by the young boy's efforts.

"They're proud of Bazil," she said.

Bazil invited just about everyone he knew, including Pixata M. Del Prado Hill, an associate professor of elementary education and reading at Buffalo State College, who coordinates the Global Book Hour.

Given the nature of the fundraiser -- a kid helping other kids -- Del Prado Hill said it was a pleasure to attend.

"How could you not go?" she said.

Del Prado Hill described Bazil as a voracious reader and an amazing kid.

"He's so able to come up with an idea and then make it happen," she said.

When asked why he sought to aid people in Sri Lanka, rather than in Buffalo, Bazil replied matter-of-factly: "They're more poor than here."

Bazil has no recollection of his visit to Sri Lanka as a baby, but he said, "I know it's different."

"Sometimes they have to go to wells to get water, and here, we just go to the sink," he said.

The fundraiser drew about 60 people and raised $726 -- not a lot, but far more than what Bazil originally intended.

Some of the money will be sent to Christobel's sister, who is a teacher in Bandarawela; some will go to Antony's brother in Kalkudah, and the rest will be sent to Malaysia, where Antony also has a sister. All of the funds will be used for books and school supplies, the Ratnams said.

Over the summer, the Ratnams plan to take a trip to Sri Lanka and see for themselves how things are going.

Then, they would like to do more fundraisers.

"We want to organize it a little more. Maybe a little earlier," Christobel said.

In the meantime, the family has put up a tree again and is simply enjoying the giving season.

e-mail: jtokasz@buffnews.com

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