This past week, Paula and I have been on the ground in Türkiye understanding what we can do to help in the aftermath of that huge earthquake.
Together with some of the remarkable people we met there, we have found a way to do something that will make a difference.
We went because we are a refugee solidarity organisation
The numbers are huge. Since 6th February, something like 50,000 people have died—many still buried under rubble—and 2 million are living in temporary shelter. They have also been re-traumatised by 12,000 aftershocks.
This is an area where many displaced people were already living. In Gazientep and Hatay, about 20% of the population are refugees from the war in Syria. There are also many Afghan refugees in the area.
We believed that we could offer things people need, deliver it in a way that offers them a sense of agency and normality, and fill the inevitable gaps in such a massive emergency.
nothing prepared me for the sight of the tragedy
Everywhere we went we saw collapsed and crumbling buildings, emergency services and people on the move.
And everywhere there are tents. Some are in large camps, some in makeshift settlements. And many are single tents outside homes, the people unable or too frightened to go inside.
Nowhere was it worse than in Hatay province. On our second day, we went there to meet a contact in the city of Antakya and I naively thought we would be able to chat in a café. I don’t know what I was thinking. Nothing is open. The whole city has been laid to waste. Entire blocks exposed or destroyed. Mountains of rubble. There are field kitchens, security forces, heavy machinery and a huge number of Turkish workers and volunteers.
Action and humility overcame the sense of helplessness
There were many moments in the last week when I wondered what on earth we can do.
In Islahiye, I spoke to a woman in her late 50s who said she’d been living in a tent for three weeks. Then she said her husband had been crushed to death, along with their goats. She’d lost everything. It’s gut wrenching.
Thinking about that level of tragedy replicated many hundreds of thousands of times across a huge area is paralysing.
Our answer is to do something. To recognise that we can’t help everyone, but we can help some people.
By identifying a group of people we are able to help, we give them a space to choose things they need and show them they are not alone.
Time and time again, we witnessed the power of showing up and asking people what they want. We have been universally welcomed and local people have bent over backwards to help us navigate the complexities of the Turkish system.
Right now, hygiene items are needed
The civil response is impressive. Markets have largely failed but for now, people have food.
One of the most pressing problems right now is the lack of available toilets and showers. Poor sanitation is causing serious infectious diseases to spread, putting vulnerable people at even greater risk.
That’s why we’re partnering with a local women’s agricultural cooperative to distribute essential hygiene items in towns surrounding Gazientep. The coop is already providing cooked meals—so our work supplements theirs and answers a pressing need.
We will be also working alongside a local volunteer group in Antakya to help in the worst affected area. And we are in discussions with three other local groups with the aim of carrying out weekly hygiene distributions in five or six different locations to complement what they do.
We need to get started now and stay flexible
We will stay flexible because needs will change.
We do know that most people in the area will want to observe Ramadan from 22nd March. In addition to hygiene items, we will be providing dates, tea, sugar and other important food items as needed.
We’re doing our first distribution in the weekend of 11th March, less than two weeks after arriving. We have committed to help until 9th April.
We will constantly evaluate our impact, but for now think one month of emergency response is the most helpful thing we can do.
We believe that in this way we can help to support 5,000 people with essentials—while also showing them that they are not alone and that people around the world care.
We need to move quickly, and we need your help
In order to carry out this essential work, we need to raise £20,000 by 9th April.
The tragedy is huge. But as we’re such a small organisation, we know what impact we have. And I know your caring gesture will be felt by the people in Türkiye.
Paul Hutchings, co-founder.