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Ali Fuat Sutlu, Emergency Programme Director on the Concern Turkey team, on the work we have done - with your support - over the last year to help those affected by February 2023’s devastating earthquake.
In February last year, the world woke up in horror as a devastating earthquake struck Turkey and northern Syria. For those of us who call these regions our home, it was heartbreaking. I watched as buildings shook and my belongings shattered. Throughout my years of working for Concern in Turkey, I had never seen such destruction.
When the earthquake struck, buildings began collapsing. The tremors were very strong – I thought they may have been strong enough to have destroyed cities nearby. It was only in the morning, as I sheltered in a park, that I saw the extent of what had happened. I saw homes reduced to rubble. And in the awful stillness following the earthquake, I heard the voices of people trapped under debris, and animals calling. Elderly people and children were terrified, separated from their families.
But in the aftermath of the disaster, I witnessed something else: some of the greatest acts of human kindness I’ve seen in my lifetime.
Connected by kindness
In the midst of a freezing winter, and just hours after the earthquake, I watched as people who had lost their homes, their loved ones – everything they treasured – shared what little they had. Our Concern team was there too, helping people on the ground get the urgent essentials they needed. We had also begun using our local office to cook comforting meals, which we handed out to affected communities.
This is the nature of humanity in any emergency; that people, families and neighbours are there for each other
At a time of incredible devastation and pain, it was heartwarming to see the change a hot meal could bring to people. In those moments, gathered together, we were all connected by kindness.
This is the nature of humanity in any emergency; that people, families and neighbours are there for each other. And this kindness is in your nature too. It’s because of people like you that we were ready when disaster struck my community here in Turkey – a response that continues almost a year later.
On the first day of the crisis, Concern distributed vital supplies from our warehouses, while our local teams assessed the most severely affected areas. Thanks to our generous supporters, we were able to work with partners to provide the life-saving essentials urgently needed by those who had lost homes and loved ones.
We have distributed 18,299 food parcels, which means families can cook and have precious meals together, as well as 5,394 sets of kitchen utensils. In the months following the earthquake, we provided 22,458 hygiene kits to families, and 20,489 blankets and sleeping mats to keep them warm at night.
Families know what they need most in an emergency. That’s why we’ve also helped over 6,623 families receive cash transfers to support themselves.
The impact of the earthquake has been particularly upsetting for children, who have witnessed frightening things no child should ever have to see. Thanks to your kind donations, Concern is able to provide psychosocial support to children affected by the earthquake. In community sessions, children are free to talk about their feelings and their experiences. Every child is listened to and taught techniques to better cope with, and recover from, trauma.
But there is still a long way to go. Those affected by the earthquake still need our support to rebuild their lives.
Meryem, 71, was one of the millions of people whose lives were turned upside down on February 6, 2023. When the earthquake occurred, Meryem and her husband Mehmet’s home in Malatya collapsed, leaving them trapped for days. Meryem did not know whether her children, who lived in the city centre, were alive or dead.
Thankfully, all of Meryem’s family survived, but she spent 35 days in hospital after sustaining injuries to her arms and upper body. When she left, she had nothing but a plastic sheet to protect her from the elements.
“We had no tents, no containers, no shelter space,” she said. “There was no sleeping during that time. It was very difficult to wash and look after ourselves. We had bad days.”
In a huge act of generosity, a stranger passing by gave Meryem’s family his tent, and that was the start of rebuilding their family life – piece by piece. What’s more, because of caring people like you, our Concern team could continue this support, providing Meryem and her family with vital, life-saving supplies, including food kits, hygiene kits, blankets and a solar lamp. We also built a sun shade to provide the family with relief from the intense summer sun.
Meryem said: “It is really uplifting to receive these items, receiving things like a food basket and hygiene kits makes me feel like a child who has been given sweets.
“My only hope for the future is that my family is safe and happy, and that no person will ever go through anything like this again.”
Our work continues
It was thanks to the incredible kindness of Concern donors that we could be there to support Meryem. But the extent of devastation means so many families will still be recovering for years to come.
One year later, Meryem and her family are still living in temporary accommodation, while the wreckage of the earthquake is cleared. This is the story for hundreds of thousands of families living in the aftermath of this disaster, who have lost their homes and livelihoods. The earthquake struck 10 provinces, impacting more than 10 million people. And these are the families – the grandparents, mums, dads, babies and children – that continue to need us. We must come together to support families just like ours to rebuild and recover.
If you can, please give a donation today. Support like yours is a light in the darkness to families like Meryem’s. Together, we can let them know the world has not forgotten about them.