Tzu Chi Turkey’s Earthquake Relief Team Accelerates Aid Efforts to Assist Hatay Province, the Most Devastated Region

National Headquarters  |  February 16, 2023
Six members of the Tzu Chi Earthquake Relief Team drove to the hardest-hit region by the devastating earthquake. Upon arrival, they planned to survey four provinces affected by the disaster and evaluate the distribution plan. Source/Da Ai TV

Edited by Qihua Luo & Andrea Barkley

Before sunrise, on February 15, 2023, six members of Tzu Chi’s Earthquake Relief Team set off to Turkey’s Hatay Province. Hatay was the hardest-hit area in the country’s south, left in ruins by the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that struck Turkey and Syria on February 6.

While the team prepared for disaster relief in Hatay, 2,620 blankets ordered by the Earthquake Relief Team also arrived at El Menahil International School in Istanbul. Distribution will begin on Friday and Saturday.

As relief and rescue operations across the region continued, Tzu Chi Turkey & the Tzu Chi Earthquake Relief Team made advances toward helping earthquake survivors. Each act of kindness, no matter how small, was one step closer to helping survivors rebuild their lives. 

Six Tzu Chi Frontline Members Head to Hatay, Turkey’s Hardest-Hit Region

Team members setting off
Before dawn, team members set off. Source/Da Ai TV

At 5:30 in the morning, six volunteers loaded dry food, scarves, and blankets into their vehicle. Then, they set off from the El Menahil International School in Istanbul and drove the 1,050 kilometers (652 miles) to Hatay Province.

Team members had removed two seats from the nine-seater van to fit ten boxes of supplies. In addition, the group members loaded extra diesel and gas in case of an emergency.

Given the current situation, Tzu Chi volunteer Jinggui Xie explained, “After entering the disaster area, we won’t have access to the supplies available in Istanbul. So we must prepare ourselves and the team members who will come after us.” He continued: “Next, we will investigate the local conditions and the situation of survivors. Then, we have to assess where a suitable distribution site would be. Will it be possible? Is there a network? What is the current security situation there? We can only make arrangements once everything is thought through.”

Due to the snow, road conditions were challenging on the drive to Hatay, but Tzu Chi’s direction was crystal clear. After arriving, the team took to investigating the disaster scene as quickly as possible in the hopes that distribution could begin shortly.

Blankets Arrive at El Menahil International School

Professor Cuma Serya directed the effort from the roof of a truck
Professor Cuma Serya directed the effort from the roof of a truck. Source /Da Ai TV

Since internationally donated blankets and other supplies are in transit, Tzu Chi Turkey purchased the first available blankets locally in Turkey. Each bundle of blankets weighed 80 kilograms (176 pounds). Volunteers of El Menahil International School mobilized. Everyone worked together and put the 2,620 blankets into storage in just half an hour. Professor Cuma Serya shared, “Our team believes that those who can serve others are the happiest people. They don’t feel tired and become energized by this work. We hope to share the feeling of happiness.” Tzu Chi will distribute blankets, scarves, and cash cards to the earthquake victims in Istanbul this Friday and Saturday.

Some of those displaced have sought refuge with relatives and friends in Sultangazi and Istanbul. We will distribute blankets to them. Starting from Friday and Saturday this week, we plan to distribute four or five times to 1,000 households. Besides blankets, we have mattresses and scarves if needed, and most importantly, cash cards.

Relying on the help of a former supplier also helped speed up the procurement process. The local blanket supplier was the same one Tzu Chi utilized during the 1999 earthquake in Turkey. Guangzhong Hu, a Tzu Chi volunteer in Turkey, recalled, “23 years ago, a deposit was required. But this time, there was nothing at all. We received the blankets before we made the payment. We have built trust with each other. The supplier voluntarily cut the price because he knows Tzu Chi’s work.”

The blankets are large enough for two people to share. Tzu Chi hopes the warmth from these blankets can help provide physical comfort to survivors’ after all the suffering they’ve endured from this tragic event. 

The Taiwan Center Seeks Support From World Central Kitchen

World Central Kitchen volunteers transporting food
World Central Kitchen volunteers transport food. Source/Da Ai TV
The Taiwan Center negotiating with Tzu Chi on follow-up cooperation matters
The Taiwan Center negotiated with Tzu Chi on follow-up cooperation matters. Source/Da Ai TV

The Taiwan-Reyhanli Center for World Citizens in Reyhanli, Turkey, also known as the “Taiwan Center,” sheltered many affected people after the earthquake. However, when the number of disaster survivors who needed care increased, the Taiwan Center sought assistance from outsiders. 

The Buddhist Tzu Chi Charity Foundation contacted the World Central Kitchen. As a result, starting on February 15, the World Central Kitchen is providing hot food to survivors.

In the face of this assistance, Qiu  Zhenyu, the Chief Executive Officer of the Taiwan Center, was very grateful, “[Many of] the survivors have not had hot food for many days.”

Relief workers have temporarily solved the food problems with the presence of the World Central Kitchen. But many survivors in Reyhanli are still living in tents. Moreover, winter is ending soon. With the increase in temperature, another set of problems will arise. When summer arrives, the temperature in the tents may reach as high as 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit). In response to this situation, Tzu Chi is actively evaluating and assessing how to provide care in the future.

Tzu Chi’s Earthquake Relief Team will arrive at the disaster area today. The Taiwan Center is also listed as one of our disaster relief points. We may collaborate to turn it into a distribution site in the future.

When disaster strikes, there are countless difficulties to overcome. Tzu Chi advocates for cooperation, across nationality and organization, for the love and collective good of all people.

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