Two weeks have already passed since our team of volunteers returned from their trip to Turkey, where theywent to help alleviate the effects of the natural catastrophe. However, in the minds of those who were there, the looks of incomprehension of those who lost everything, the ruins of what had been a city, and a people committed to the recovery of their country still remain.
Therefore, from Conexión: Creando Puentes we want to share with you the testimony of what we witnessed during our trip. An initiative that began when, interested in the families of our students affected by the earthquakes of February 6th, we received numerous messages and calls informing us of the devastation that fell on Syria and Turkey.
The main objective of this NGO is the teaching of languages to migrants and refugees. However, those who know us, are aware that in the hearts of our volunteers there is an even greater feeling that has no limits – solidarity with those in need. That is why, using our collaborative spirit, we created a small committee led by the director of the charity with a single goal, to help the people affected in Turkey.
Although it was not easy, the generosity and empathy of our donors allowed us to raise the necessary funds to bring our humanitarian support there. For this reason, today we are especially grateful to all those who put their lives on hold to travel to Turkey, to all those who financed our trip with their contribution, to all the students who provided us with contacts and contact information, and, in short, to all those who allowed us to help where it is needed.
With the economic and material resources we had obtained, we flew to Istanbul, from where we left for our destination Şanlıurfa. This city, located about 50 km from Syria in eastern Turkey, is among the ones which was hit the hardest by seismic activity (after the epicentre area). Upon arrival, the reality of the place made us aware of the nightmare there. An example of this was the block of apartments that collapsed the same day we arrived, injuring people who were trying to rescue some of the few belongings that had not yet been destroyed.
The rubble and the perimeter tapes surrounding the buildings affected by the earthquake gave us a glimpse of a city in constant danger and reminded us of the misfortune they had experienced. Any estimate had been insufficient. However, in the midst of the jumble of shattered hopes, we perceived another common denominator, cooperation. Throughout the neighbourhoods we met people who shared what little they had as brothers and sisters.
In the face of this, we became even more aware that only by working together could our help be more effective, so we contacted local teams and doctors to join forces. This led us to spend our first afternoon in an area of the city set aside to accommodate approximately one thousand displaced people from Kahramanmaraş, the epicentre of the earthquakes. In a matter of days, makeshift accommodation points had been set up in what had previously been kindergartens. Overcrowding reached inhuman heights as houses with three rooms and only one toilet accommodated 45 people.
However, the biggest challenge came in trying to feed all the people in such a situation. In order to feed them, a kitchen had been improvised to guarantee a free plate of rice and beans per person per day. To this end, citizens and aid workers began their work at eight o’clock in the morning. Faced with such a situation, our team decided to use part of the economic resources obtained to buy other necessary food such as chicken, liquid yogurt, vegetables and bread so that, after being cooked, they could be distributed during the last day of our stay to 1,300 people.
The situation was difficult, and the testimonies heartbreaking. These people had suddenly had to leave their cities behind, knowing that under the rubble of where they once lived family and friends could still be trapped, heading for an unknown town, without a home, without economic resources. Therefore, it was common to come across countless cases of people who were forced to start a new life from scratch. Among them, we remember a man who was in a shelter, and while sharing a pot of tea, he told us that he had just lost his wife, his three children, his father and his brother. Alongside him, his mother and sister were still in shock.
Others affected included children, haunted by nightmares after the events and in search of safety. Syrian teenagers like Omran, sixteen years old, had been moved to Şanlıurfa and lamented the condition in which he was now forced to live. Our NGO, wanting to sow the seed of hope in him, donated a mobile phone to him with internet access so that he could study English with us.
During the second and third day, together with ANSAR, another NGO active in Gaziantep, Şanlıurfa and other Turkish cities, we went to three refugee camps to collaborate. In the first one, populated by approximately seventy people, we were able to distribute shoes for all the children and blankets for the families, since another reality of the displaced people is the lack of clothes. There we also met Aryam, a fourteen year-old teenager who, like Omran, saw her academic training paralyzed overnight, and, again, as we did with the young Syrian, we were able to provide her with a mobile phone with which to attend our English classes.
In the second camp, among the one hundred and fifty people sheltering there, we met a woman who needed milk to feed her child, born just before the earthquakes. Fortunately, the resources we raised allowed us to buy three months’ worth of powdered milk for her. This very place was home to a large number of young children, whose lives had also been paralyzed, and did not bode well for an early or easy return to normality. Therefore, together with ANSAR, we proposed to co-finance the installation of a tent that would serve as a school for all of them.
In the third camp (with more than 700 refugees) we found the same situation of desolation and uncertainty, as well as the same lack of basic facilities such as toilets or kitchens. They stayed there knowing that the wait would be long, since the reconstruction work requires prior clearing of rubble and a significant investment by the local government. So, for the time being, with the help of international organisations, the government is raising money for prefabricated houses in which the displaced can live temporarily (each house costs 5,000 euros). Other families, on the other hand, had just been relocated to empty apartments that had not been affected by the earthquakes. However, the need came in the form of household appliances and furniture, so our NGO bought a fridge and washing machine for one of the large families we met.
The days went by and our trip came to an end in Istanbul, where we had just distributed our last resources. Today, aware that the reality is still as harsh in the Anatolian peninsula, Conexión: Creando Puentes continues to work to achieve results to alleviate the situation through initiatives we are planning to set up with other entities, such as Pelda and Borders of Love. Our hands continue to be at the service of helping those in need.
[translated from English]
31st March 2023