Following the recent devastating earthquakes in Turkey and Syria, NYU students and faculty have launched a relief effort. The student-run Turkish Culture Association alone raised more than $80,000.
Almost a month later, Turkey and Syria are just beginning to recover from the effects of the earthquakes that devastated the countries on February 6. After the disaster, students and faculty at New York University took the initiative to support the victims by organizing relief and humanitarian aid.
More than 47 thousand people lost their lives as a result of earthquakes that occurred in northern Syria and southeastern Turkey with a magnitude of 7.5 and 7.8, respectively. February 20 of this year another 6.3 magnitude earthquake crashed into southern Turkey near the Syrian border, causing additional damage to buildings.
Çağla Karslioğlu, a senior at Tisha who is a member of NYU’s Turkish Cultural Association, grew up in Turkey and is the only member of her family who currently lives outside the country. She said that while no one in her family was hurt in the tragedy, the families of many of her friends were.
“My family lives far from the affected area, but some of my best friends lost their families,” Karslioglu said. “The whole thing was extremely political. Much of the damage caused was avoidable, but because of the government and the precautions people failed to take, so many people were hurt. It was deeply personal.”
Karslioglu believes that the Turkish government priorities of new infrastructure in more financially privileged areas such as Istanbul, in low-income cities such as Gaziantep, which has been severely affected. She believes that the authorities do not allocate enough funds to ensure the safety of apartment buildings in these areas.
The Turkish Cultural Association has been working to help earthquake victims by collecting donations in the lobby of the Bobst Library and with the student government recently spent a watch for the victims on the steps of the Kimmel Center. While Karslioglu praised the vigil, she felt the university could have done much more to support relief efforts, not just as an afterthought at the end email about NYU sports teams.
“The hardest part was seeing that most of the NYU students we saw didn’t care at all,” Karslioglu said. “We’ve heard some people say we don’t deserve help. We heard some people say that the people who were hurt deserved it. We’ve heard some crazy things.”
As of March 1, the club has collected $84,000 in donations for Ahbap Platformu Resmi Sitesi, a non-profit organization that provides housing, food and medical supplies to those in need.
Karslioglu also shared concerns about another earthquake, which geologists predict could be devastating influence Istanbul for the next 70 years. Her family is already in the process of preemptively moving to better housing in case of an earthquake.
“Another big earthquake is expected in Istanbul, and my whole family is in Istanbul,” Karslioglu said. “My family and almost everyone in Istanbul is trying to move to a safer building because they fear for their lives.”
Khalid Latif, chaplain at NYU and executive director of the Islamic Center, went to Turkey February 13. He partnered with Islamic Relief USA to provide emergency relief, cash, food, winter supplies and medical assistance to earthquake victims.
“We passed through cities that are now completely destroyed,” Latif said. “Places that once had 500,000 to 750,000 people have all left and looked like a war zone. None of them went to bed thinking that an earthquake would strike early in the morning and change their lives forever.”
Latif said he wanted to witness the situation firsthand, share the aftermath of the disaster with the NYU community and promote empathy, forgiveness and compassion during the month of Ramadan. He added that the victims, who are grateful for the humanitarian aid, have been affected by the earthquakes emotionally and physically through trauma and displacement.
“Every person I’ve met, regardless of age or what they’ve lost, gave me the same answer when I asked them what they would like me to tell people when I get home,” Latif said. “They were all grateful that we were there. They all said to value your time, to value what we have and everyone in our lives, and to make sure we don’t leave for tomorrow what we can do now.”
Latif said that the Islamic Center named after started a campaign for disaster relief, raising $820,000 to date.
“We share a humanity, and that’s reason enough for me to want to help them in their time of need,” Latif said. “Syria in particular has been through so much in the last decade and the challenges they face because of the ongoing conflict make it much harder for the people there. I am proud of our students and community at the Islamic Center—they always help people in difficult times, and I knew this time would be no different.”
At the NYU Abu Dhabi campus, senior Yumna Elrashid Mohamed worked with students and faculty for more than two weeks to purchase essential items including hygiene products, food, baby powder, milk and diapers for the affected families from earthquakes.
About half of Syria’s population has already been displaced as a result of the 12-year civil war, and these earthquakes reportedly triggered a new wave of displacement. Elrashid said that while donations to Turkey can be made through the Turkish embassy, donations to Syria from the United Arab Emirates can only be made through the country’s Red Crescent. Elrashid explained that there is a damaged area is considered “rebel-controlled territory,” barring outside aid through the Syrian government.
Originally from Sudan, Elrashid has lived in the Middle East all her life. As a Muslim, her ethnic and religious ties led her to help the victims.
“It’s definitely a religious responsibility,” Elrashid said. “My main motivation is to know that this is what God has asked us to do. I think it’s really a test to see how we’re going to respond and how we’re going to come together and help those in need.”
Contact Yezen Saadah at [email protected]