Tzu Chi Meets With the Turkish Vice President to Mobilize Earthquake Relief

National Headquarters  |  February 14, 2023
Turkey Assessment group
Tzu Chi volunteers gathered in Istanbul to discuss arrangements for follow-up relief work.

Source Da Ai News
Translated by H.B. Qin
Edited by Andrea Barkley

Although last week’s devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake lasted less than a minute, it caused tens of thousands of buildings and houses in Turkey and across the region to collapse instantly. Countless dreams for a bright future shattered as the unimaginable came to pass. A week has passed since, and the death toll across Turkey and Syria has now exceeded 37,000. It is expected to rise.

Many people have lost their loved ones and homes overnight, facing emotional and financial devastation.One of the survivors, Bashar, who is from Syria and had previously lost his home because of Syria’s civil war, witnessed again how people were left with nothing. He recalled a woman sitting beside a tent holding her deceased child’s body, “The child has been dead for two days, but the mother still holds her and covers her with a blanket, not wanting to leave,” Bashar describes.

 This anecdote is only a snapshot of the disaster. Further south, in earthquake-stricken areas of Syria, the death toll is also steeper than official figures suggested. Roughly 5,800 are presumed dead in Syria alone. Idrib Hospital director Yaser pleaded for help over the phone, “Hunger has defeated us; the cold assails us. We are in great need of medical treatment and medicine. So many people are living in shelters.”

Meeting With Turkish Vice President

Tzu Chi volunteers instantly mobilized after hearing the news and formed the Tzu Chi Turkey Earthquake Disaster Assessment Delegation. They split into two groups to deliver aid to survivors as quickly as possible. One team went to the capital Ankara with the Executive Director of Tzu Chi Turkey and met with Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay. The other team in Istanbul handled the registration of disaster survivors and the procurement and preparation of blankets, mattresses, and other materials.

The Ankara team met with Vice President Oktay on February 12, 2023, hoping that the Turkish government would assist in the follow-up assessment and relief matters and deliver aid to the survivors as soon as possible, which made significant progress in the assessment operation.

The concern of Tzu Chi volunteers touched Vice President Oktay. Shih Min Hsiung, the Deputy Chief Executive Officer of the Tzu Chi Charity Foundation from Taiwan, participated in the visit. He said, “Our delegation members were the first to arrive in Turkey and proposed many relief programs. The Vice President was delighted. He especially appreciated our plans to distribute warm blankets and clothing and supermarket shopping cards, which he said he was happy to see.”

Tzu Chi Turkey Executive Director Faisal Hu photo
Tzu Chi Turkey Executive Director Faisal Hu was overcome with emotion when he heard the stories of the survivors.
turkey assessment blankets
The disaster assessment delegation specially brought with them thick blankets and dozens of boxes of supplies from Taiwan.

Meeting Survivors and Sending Warmth in Winter

Survivors who lost their homes in the earthquake flocked to Istanbul to their friends and relatives, and Tzu Chi Turkey mobilized nearly 300 volunteers to visit their homes and register them for future aid. In the process, they learned that disaster survivors needed warm blankets the most. However, blankets are not easy to buy in Turkey during the winter. So Tzu Chi volunteers quickly contacted various distributors.

Due to the Turkish government’s centralized management of relief supplies, the blankets initially planned to be imported to Turkey from Taiwan or mainland China could not be cleared in time. However, Tzu Chi volunteers adapted quickly and turned to local procurement. With the help of Tzu Chi Turkey Executive Director Faisal Hu, Tzu Chi communicated with several manufacturers. After comparing prices, they placed an order for 10,000 blankets and transported them to Istanbul.

Regarding the subsequent plan, Shih Min Hsiung added, “We also hope to further our talk with government officials today so that if the blankets arrive from Taiwan, they can be cleared through customs smoothly and be distributed.”

According to Jing Gui Hsieh, a Taiwan Disaster Assessment Delegation member responsible for the purchase with Faisal, “When the earthquake happened 24 years ago, the blankets were sourced from the current blanket vendor. We have become good friends after such a long time. He made arrangements immediately and quoted me $400, including the 18% tax and shipping, which was very touching.”

The trauma caused by the earthquake is grave, and wintry conditions only hamper recovery efforts as well as basic survival. The Disaster Assessment Delegation shipped thick blankets and dozens of boxes of supplies from Taiwan, and the airlines significantly increased the weight limit generously. At the same time, Turkish customs sped up the clearance. All teams and organizations are united and approach this relief effort in a multi-tiered manner. It is their intention to seize every second because time is of the essence.

We have been serving Syrian refugees in Turkey and have been receiving support and help from the Turkish community. Now we have the opportunity to give back to the Turks, and I think that's what our charitable organization should do.

When disaster strikes, help comes from all sides, and people’s hearts open to each other. Everyone is encouraged to give what they can to help the survivors get through this winter and this terrible ordeal.

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