Written by Tzu Chi Turkey
Translated by Ariel Chan
Edited by Qihua Luo, Andrea Barkley
On February 17, 2023, In Istanbul, Turkey, in the Sultangazi district, a man named Abdullah, 52 years old, carted food and daily necessities for his family. This had been the first time since the massive 7.8 magnitude earthquake that rocked southern Turkey and northern Syria that he could shop for his family. He was able to gather these necessities because he received cash cards from Tzu Chi Turkey. Abdullah, who is supporting his son and the three orphans left by his brother, said, “There are other earthquake victims who need help just like us. May God bless you and help other people in need.”
From February 17-19, 2023, the Tzu Chi Turkey Service Center distributed blankets, scarves, and cash cards to earthquake survivors at the El Menahil International School in Istanbul. Eight hundred thirty-one volunteers participated and helped 1,036 households affected by the disaster.
The Hardest Hit Survivors
Many Syrian refugees have been hit with the double trauma of war and natural disaster. Soapy, 33, moved his family from Syria to Hatay, in southern Turkey, nine years ago to escape the civil war. Sadly, the recent earthquake devastated the Hatay region and killed his parents and siblings. With nothing left, he took his daughter to Istanbul to rely on relatives. In light of his future life, Soapy said. “Most people (like me) have nothing but the clothes on their backs. For us, it is impossible to settle in Istanbul because of rent prices. So we’re praying that everyone will get the help they need.”
Cross-Organizational Collaboration Expands Support
While Tzu Chi Turkey distributed supplies to survivors in Istabul, Tzu Chi’s Earthquake Relief Team traveled again to Hatay Province, the hardest-hit area in all of Turkey. With a population of more than 1.6 million, the province of Hatay, once a bustling border between Turkey and Syria, was full of commerce and high-rise buildings. However, over 9,000 buildings collapsed during the earthquake, and more than 7,000 people died. In its aftermath, aid workers discovered that the Turkish government had not fully implemented the revised building regulations for many years. Furthermore, despite the Turkish government’s announcement that reconstruction would commence in March, there remains a shortage of large construction equipment, hindering efforts to meet the needs of the survivors.
While in Hatay, Tzu Chi’s Earthquake Relief Team visited a tent encampment where nearly 1,000 people live. They discovered that there are less than 20 toilets to service these survivors. Because of the lack of sanitary facilities, many survivors have been unable to bathe. One survivor named Cihara shared, “Because of the number of people needing to use the lavatory, the water is very weak. So it is difficult to go to the toilet, let alone shower. This issue is the most serious one for us now.”
Faced with the urgent needs of the disaster area, Tzu Chi’s Earthquake Relief Team visited Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency’s (or AFAD’s) on-site team in Hatay and urgently discussed future collaboration plans.
Tzu Chi’s Earthquake Relief Team looks forward to cross-organizational collaboration to expand care to all earthquake survivors.
Admist Disaster, an Emotional Reunion With an El Menahil Alum
During their travels, Tzu Chi’s Earthquake Relief Team also traveled to Gaziantep, a province in south-central Turkey and an area devasted by the earthquake. The purpose of the visit was to visit an El Menahil International School alumnus named Ali. A few years ago, Ali’s family moved to Turkey to escape the war in Syria. At 12 years old, Ali had become the family’s breadwinner and had to work 12 hours a day.
Ali remarked on the difficulties of being a child laborer, “When I was working, I often daydreamed that I was still studying. I pretended that the factory was my school.”
At the beginning of 2015, El Menahil International School in Turkey opened. With Tzu Chi Turkey’s help, Ali began to attend the school. Upon seeing Ali again, Tzu Chi’s Earthquake Relief Team members noted how grown up he had become. Not having seen the Tzu Chi volunteers for several years, Ali smiled brightly. “When I saw you coming, I was so happy,” Ali said excitedly.
Ali’s entire family was fortunate. No one was injured during the earthquake. But, inspired by Tzu Chi, he has dedicated his life to serving others. After the earthquake, he joined Sened Dernegi, a local Turkish non-profit organization, as a volunteer.
Zicheng Yu, a Tzu Chi volunteer who has known Ali since he was a boy, spoke proudly of the young man. Yu said, “He asked me whether I remembered his wish. He said he hoped he could one day become a Tzu Chi volunteer. And every time he volunteers here, he feels like one of the Tzu Chi volunteers, and his heart is full of gratitude.”
Tzu Chi volunteers in Turkey have been supporting many of these young people with love for nearly ten years, witnessing how kindness and empathy can change their life paths. After the earthquake, countless “Alis” will need support, and Tzu Chi Turkey has the confidence and strength to do so.