Written by Qihua Luo
Translated by Hong Chan
Edited by Adriana DiBenedetto
Two weeks ago, the Tzu Chi Turkey Service Center received a request for help from the Reyhanli Centre for World Citizens. As more disaster survivors came to seek help, the organization had asked for additional support. With this, Tzu Chi immediately contacted World Central Kitchen to ensure earthquake survivors could have access to hot food, and at the same time, began to actively evaluate and plan out their next steps to provide care.
On February 25, 2023, volunteers traveled thousands of miles to the Reyhanli Centre for World Citizens for their first earthquake relief distribution in Turkey’s Hatay Province. On that day, volunteers distributed 1,581 essential supplies to survivors, such as blankets, scarves, and cash cards.
Seeking Relief Following the Disaster
The Reyhanli Centre for World Citizens has special significance in the disaster area. It is a reception center on the border between Turkey and Syria, and has aided many Syrian disaster survivors.
Since the earthquake, daily tasks have become deeply challenging. “There are six people in our family, but only three blankets,” shared an earthquake survivor named Husner, whose family of six was residing in a space of less than two square meters. There were no covered windows, and cold winds blew into the home. “When the wind blows in, the quilt will be damp, but thankfully the heat insulation pad is here to keep the warmth,” Achmad, a Syrian refugee said, although with concern in his eyes. “It’s cold here, but at least it’s better than living in a house destroyed by the earthquake.”
For the distribution in Hatay Province, Tzu Chi Turkey mobilized 40 local volunteers to join in the relief efforts. Volunteers who arrived in the early morning took a short break, and then dove into the distribution preparations. Although the volunteers are experienced in distribution activities, this event marked their first distribution away from Istanbul. “This place is very open, and people can come in from all directions,” said a volunteer named Basel, explaining that planning a relief distribution in such a large, open space was their biggest challenge.
Getting Relief Underway
Founded by the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation in 2015, El Menahil International School gives hope to Syrian families displaced by violence and conflict by lifting up education and support for children. Teachers and students from El Menahil International School actively participated in the February 25 distribution, hoping to truly make a difference in this difficult time.
Before 4:00 AM on February 27, Tzu Chi volunteers in Turkey set off from Hatay Province before sunrise, traveling to Gaziantep Province for the next distribution. “The volunteers got up very early, and some didn’t even go to bed. Everyone was afraid of missing this opportunity to contribute,” said Tzu Chi volunteer Guangzhong Hu.
At 7:00 AM in the Gaziantep conference center, which can accommodate 1,600 people, all the computer settings and arrangements for the distribution had been prepared.
Volunteers greeted survivors warmly, wishing to contribute their strength. Among the volunteer teams participating in the distribution were many teachers and students from El Menahil International School, some of whom have relatives in the impacted area.
“In the earthquake, my relatives were injured in Antakya. So I can understand the pain of the survivors. When they invited me to be a volunteer, I was very happy,” Sarah, an alumnus of El Menahil International School, shared.
During the two-day distribution, Tzu Chi Turkey volunteers aimed to help more than 3,000 affected families, and assist them on the journey to relief.
Mama’s Magic Game
Kubura was accompanied by her three young children at the distribution site. The youngsters looked around with wide eyes as they shared their breakfast. Only an hour and a half prior, there was another aftershock, and the family didn’t have time to eat breakfast, so Kubura came prepared with pancakes. “When the earthquake came, I told the children that it was a game so they would not be afraid,” explained Kubura. “At that time, my eldest had already been shaken awake, and my younger daughter was sleeping.”
There were many children at the distribution site, and Kubura brought along more food to share with others. Although they did not know each other in the past, the care and love at that moment brought warmth to everyone present.