Outside, Feb. 14 was a bone-chilling winter day. But inside the Kenneth C. Rowe Management Building at Dalhousie University, warm smiles and conversations in Turkish greeted students, along with calls for donations.
This was one of several tabling sessions put on by the Turkish Society of Nova Scotia. They have also tabled at Saint Mary’s University and held a bake and art sale at the Halifax Seaport Farmers Market. All proceeds from the society’s work will go to victims of the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that hit Turkey, Syria and surrounding countries on Feb. 6.
According to Zeynep Oncu, the treasurer for the Turkish Society of Nova Scotia and a Dalhousie University student, the society is asking for monetary donations because so far, only newly-bought items are currently being accepted by aid organizations in Turkey.
“Therefore, we decided that gathering those kinds of clothes or bedding donations and buying them from here and sending it back to Turkey will be kind of a waste of time and money,” Oncu said, “So instead, we are trying to raise awareness and gather donations, and then we are gonna get that money to other nonprofits or NGOs back in Turkey. They can use that money to purchase whatever is needed for the earthquake survivors.”
According to a live tracker established by Al-Jazeera, more than 46,000 people were killed in the earthquakes. More than 5 million people have been left homeless in Syria alone, said Sivanka Dhanapala, the Syria representative for the UNHCR to Al-Jazeera.
This is the most destructive earthquake to hit the area in recent history. The last earthquake nearly this strong was in 1999, when a 7.6 magnitude earthquake hit. It killed around 17,500 people.
On Feb. 20, additional earthquakes hit the region, clocking in at magnitudes of 6.3 and 5.8 respectively. These additional quakes paired with freezing temperatures in the region have made relief efforts difficult, as reported by Al-Jazeera.
Initial responses to the disaster
When she first heard the news of the earthquake, Oncu said she wasn’t concerned, since earthquakes are common in the area. But once she saw visuals of the destruction, she began to plan how she could help.
“I wish I could be there because there are things that I can offer, like my blood, my stuff and even human help,” Oncu said in a phone interview the morning she tabled at the Rowe building. “I could go there and help physically pack boxes or give them food and stuff. It’s so sad not being able to go and help. [The] feeling of being stranded here and not able to leave and go and do something. So that kind of made me feel so helpless.”
Oncu isn’t the only one who has felt a lack of hope following the tragedy. Other students at the tabling event felt similarly.
Dalhousie student Dide Sezer found that many questions ran through her head when she heard about the earthquake, particularly how strong it was, where it happened and the damage. Ceren Bal — another student who was tabling — was overcome with the need to help and reach out to people.
“I’m still in shock from the disaster. And it’s an ongoing process,” Bal added.
Oncu said that the earthquake’s aftermath has been felt by the Turkish community in Nova Scotia. She said that members of the community have lost family members and friends, while struggling to contact others.
“They’re probably under collapsed buildings,” she said with a shake in her voice.
How to help
Societies such as the Turkish Society of Nova Scotia and the Dalhousie Muslim Student Association are taking donations. These will be sent to NGOs and aid organizations in Turkey and Syria.
Oncu said that she wants everyone to know that even a small donation can make a big difference. One Canadian dollar equals just under 14 Turkish lira.
“Even a $5 donation makes a lot of difference. So that’s why we’re trying to spread the news, spread awareness as much as we can, trying to get people to donate,” said Oncu.
The one thing Oncu and Bal don’t want is for people to stop donating as time goes on; even though it’s been a couple of weeks since the earthquake, victims continue to suffer.
“This is one of the most devastating earthquakes in the last 80 years,” Bal said, “It is a tragedy there, [it is much worse] firsthand, [than] we can ever imagine. I just want people to be aware of that. And to keep following the news and contribute as much as they can.”
Donations can be sent to the Canadian Red Cross to help victims and survivors in Turkey and Syria. Donations specific to Turkey can be sent through Ahbap. The UN World Food Programme also takes donations to help families directly impacted.