Written by Jiali Liu
Translated by Hong Chan
Edited by Andrea Barkley
On February 16, 2023, Tzu Chi’s Earthquake Relief Team set off to earthquake-stricken Hatay Province, Turkey, after completing preliminary disaster relief work planning in Istanbul. The Hatay region was near the earthquake’s epicenter and has seen tremendous structural damage and loss of life. The overall death toll in Turkey and Syria is now nearing 44,000.
The Tzu Chi Earthquake Relief Team departed from Istanbul, Turkey, at 6:00 am local time. After a 13-hour trek, the volunteer team arrived at the Adana Şakirpaşa Airport on the outskirts of the disaster area. They were greeted at several checkpoints before they were allowed into the disaster area.
Since Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan declared a three-month state of emergency on February 7, entry or exit into the disaster zones is only allowed with the government’s permission. However, as representatives of a charitable organization, the Tzu Chi Earthquake Relief Team had full approval from Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency (AFAD) to enter the region.
David Yu, a Tzu Chi volunteer, said, “Although there were obstacles, the application process was very smooth. The staff of AFAD were kind and helped us input necessary information. So when the time comes for us to go to nearby provinces, we don’t need to apply again.”
Although the journey into the disaster area was difficult, the volunteer team made steady progress. The first order of business was to establish an emergency response center. Setting up a base of operations for the team was necessary for safety and a sense of community.
Tzu Chi volunteer Jinggui Xie said, “The most important goal of a response center is to let colleagues and volunteers doing disaster relief work know that there is a safe place here and let them truly understand that they are not alone and that this is a place of compassion.”
Da Ai News reporter Jinghui Yang said, “After 13 hours, we finally arrived at the northern end of Hatay. It is still 2 hours from the hardest-hit area of the province. But we will be closer to other provinces, such as Gaziantep, which is only 2 hours away by car. So if we plan to distribute here, this is an ideal site. In the future, this place will be our emergency response center.”
Early the following day, Tzu Chi Earthquake Relief Team set off from Hatay to Osmaniye, Turkey, a 100-kilometer (62-mile) journey.
Volunteers counted 25 encampments in Osmaniye, with 380 tents total. More than 2,000 people live in these temporary structures. Tzu Chi volunteers immediately visited the survivors to understand their needs and evaluate the possibility of future distribution.
Reporter Yang said, “We see that many charitable organizations have already settled in, and Tzu Chi is seeking the possibility of collaboration.”
After completing the disaster survey in Osmaniye, the Tzu Chi volunteer team will continue to Gaziantep and Kars Provinces. They hope to discuss the details of cooperation with the Turkish government so that affected residents can receive loving donations from the worldwide Tzu Chi community as soon as possible.