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Union grad learns group OK in India

Union grad learns group OK in India

Union College graduate Emily Laing couldn’t believe it this week when she heard the news of the Mumb
Union grad learns group OK in India
Alex Butts, a recent graduate of Union College, is working with underprivileged children near Mumbai, India, as part of a fellowship through the college.

Union College graduate Emily Laing couldn’t believe it this week when she heard the news of the Mumbai terror attacks.

She had just spent four months outside the Indian financial center working with a Union program to help impoverished children. She returned home last week.

Left behind was fellow Union graduate Alex Butts, who is expected to remain there with the college-sponsored program until the spring.

“I worried about the people I know over there,” Laing said Friday morning of her reaction to the violence. “It was just surprising to me and crazy. When I heard the Taj Hotel, I’ve been there.”

Laing, who is from Jordan, near Syracuse, said she spoke briefly with a counselor at the program in India by instant message. The counselor confirmed everyone there, including Butts, was OK. Butts is a native of Massachusetts.

College officials also quickly heard from Butts. Associate dean Tom McEvoy, in charge of the fellowship program, heard from the graduate Wednesday as news of the attacks spread, college spokesman Phil Wajda said.

The college continues to monitor the situation, Wajda said Friday. He knew of no plans to shorten Butts’ stay.

Another college program, however, has already been changed as a result of the violence.

A group of 11 students and two teachers traveling through the country as part of a Union College mini-term program has been recalled, officials have said. The group was to stop in Mumbai this week, but the violence prompted officials to end the trip early.

Laing was on the school’s Minerva Fellows Program with Butts until health problems forced her back home.

The college works with the Welfare Society for Destitute Children, a boarding school for children, including many orphans.

The school is located about a half-hour outside Mumbai, Laing said, outside the tourist centers that appear to have been the terrorists’ target.

Laing spent much of her time with the school and the students. But she did get into Mumbai in August, seeing the Taj Hotel. The hotel has become the epicenter for the attacks across Mumbai that have so far claimed more than 150 lives.

Laing also spent two weeks in Mumbai’s Breach Candy Hospital recovering from health problems she described as a kind of arthritis, which forced her home. That is the same hospital where several of the dead and wounded from the attacks were taken, according to news reports.

The Union College Minerva program was created in 2004, aimed at broadening out-of-class experiences. The fellow program is aimed at giving recent graduates experience with social programs involving the poor in developing countries. Other students volunteer in Uganda, Malawi, South Africa and Cambodia.

Laing graduated this spring with a degree in history. Butts graduated with a degree in economics and previously spent a semester in Vietnam.

Laing said she was sorry to leave. Photos she uploaded to the Internet show pictures of smiling children, many of them with her.

“Everybody’s been telling me ‘I’m so glad you’re home so we don’t have to worry about you,’ ” she said.

Among them is her father Dan.

“If she were still there, it would be very disconcerting,” he said. “We’re really much happier she’s here.”

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