A 7.8-magnitude earthquake and subsequent 7.6-magnitude aftershock struck southern Turkey and Syria on Monday, leaving a death toll of 15,000 and counting.
In a region that houses 12 million people across more than 10 cities, at least 6,000 buildings have collapsed, signaling a level four emergency in Turkey.
The president of the campus Turkish Student Association, or TSA, Meltem Su noted that this is the biggest crisis that Turkey has faced in recent history. The Syrian community has also been severely affected, with a death toll of more than 2,000, to which the Turkish community on campus sends their condolences, Su added.
“There’s cries of people underneath buildings, trying to get out, but nobody’s able to help them because the roads for people to go and rescue them have been destroyed,” Su said. “It’s very hard to get the necessary resources and teams there.”
Su added that severe weather conditions have further contributed to relief difficulties and fatalities.
With a community of about only 150 to 200 people on campus, Turkish students represent a very small minority of the total Berkeley population, Su noted. However, TSA has been tabling every day on Sproul, handing out flyers for donations and collecting resources through a collaboration with Turkish Airlines to send donated clothing, feminine hygiene products and more directly to Turkey, she noted. On top of physical donations, Su said TSA has also been focusing on getting monetary donations for the community.
“It’s been astronomical how much people have helped us,” Su emphasized.
TSA is currently soliciting donations of any amount to its Venmo, @ucberkeley_tsa, which will be wired to Turkish organizations that are directly assisting relief efforts. Su added that they have already collected thousands of dollars as of press time, having donated $3,500 on Tuesday and expecting much more to be donated.
According to Su, TSA has been donating its money to an organization called Ahbap, a nongovernmental organization in Turkey that has been helping people relieve those under the rubble, and assisting them with basic human necessities.
Regarding the international community’s response, campus junior Sabi Can Ruso, who is Turkish, emphasized the importance of donating to relief efforts, noting that $1 is the equivalent of 19 liras. Su noted that, because of this exchange rate, every dollar donated leaves a large impact in Turkey.
“Those 19 liras from your $1 really makes a big difference in our community,” Su said. “Just this $1 can help provide water to multiple families.”
Campus senior Hasan Ebussuutoglu was born and grew up in Turkey. His family lives in Istanbul, but he has friends whose families live where the earthquake struck in Turkey’s Gaziantep province.
According to Ebussuutoglu, his friends’ families have lost loved ones, including babies and a 5-year-old as the earthquake’s death toll rises. He is currently keeping in contact with family and friends in Turkey via social media and text due to the fact that they have lost electricity.
“Right now, saving as many people from the rubble is crucial. The next step is providing survivors with blankets, clothing, food and shelters to survive in the hard cold winter conditions,” Ebussuutoglu said. “It’s crucial to send donations to search and rescue teams and voluntary organizations in Turkey to provide these necessary aids to those affected by this catastrophic disaster.”
“This is very psychologically traumatizing to the Turkish students here, being thousands of miles away from the people they love,” Su acknowledged. “Not being able to be there directly for them is really emotionally hard for all of us. And that’s why we’re trying to do as much as we can here.”
The TSA community has been hard at work getting the collected resources and money to Turkey as soon as possible, Su noted. They already sent six full cars’ worth of materials to be delivered to Turkey on Thursday, Su added.
The UC Berkeley community has also been incredibly supportive of the relief efforts by getting the word out, supporting and posting TSA on social media, talking to professors, sending emails to deans and overall raising awareness so that people can stay informed on the situation.
“A lot of people who don’t even go to the university have approached our table and have been amazingly supportive about this whole situation,” Su said.
In fact, the impact has spread across the country, Su noted. As the TSA of Berkeley, it has been helping other universities in other regions to get together and create their own fundraisers for organizations, she added.
In addition to the domestic efforts in the United States, TSA has also been providing assistance internationally to Turkish students and associations at universities in the Netherlands, France, Italy and England.
A vigil will be held in front of Sather Gate in the coming days to commemorate those lost and those who still require aid; “anyone who wants to show their sympathy is welcome,” Su added.
“It’s unfortunate that we need such tragic circumstances to learn to put our differences aside like that, but I’m thankful regardless,” said campus sophomore Dilsad Bircicek, who is Turkish, in a text message. “I’m really proud that my community could organize so quickly and effectively.”