As the University of Louisville prepares to join the Atlantic Coast Conference on July 1, UofL Today is presenting stories of collaborations with our ACC colleagues that are already in the works. 

University of Louisville social work professor Karen Kayser is rekindling her ACC connections to produce a special documentary about the survivors of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, which killed more than 220,000 people in a dozen countries.

Produced in conjunction with Boston College film studies professor John Michalczyk, filming will begin in December, during the 10th anniversary of the disaster, and will chronicle the struggle of rebuilding faced by communities struck by the tsunami.

Kayser, the Renato LaRocca Endowed Chair in Oncology Social Work at UofL, already produced two tsunami-related documentaries while previously serving as a professor at Boston College. She is continuing her study of disaster relief in impoverished communities to determine which strategies are most effective.

“After the tsunami, I thought it was a great opportunity to teach students about disaster relief and trauma in developing countries, and how culture affects reactions and how disaster relief can be culturally sensitive,” Kayser said.

“UofL has become a national destination for students who want to study oncology social work because they want to learn from Karen’s experiences,  rom her time at Boston College and now at UofL,” Kent School of Social Work Dean Terry Singer said. “Lessons learned from Karen’s work in India with her Boston College colleagues–on how individual cultures react and deal differently with grief and disaster–has been expanded and incorporated into many of the initiatives she has undertaken here in Louisville.”

Kayser’s research concluded that some of the most effective tools for rebuilding in India focused on properly navigating culturally sensitive post-tsunami issues such as the treatment of thousands of new widows left in its wake. Seen as a burden on a struggling society, these women were considered social outcasts and virtually abandoned by the public.

Kayser’s second documentary showed how an outside aid organization successfully integrated within the Tamil community to create the Kalangari Indian Widows Project, which provided micro-credit loans so the widows could create businesses, make a living and regain control of their lives.

Kayser says the project has given the widows not only a means of financial survival, but also hope and respect in a society that nearly threw them away.

For more information, contact Karen Kayser at 502-852-1946 or