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I have lived my whole life in different countries and cities, and Istanbul in Türkiye is my favourite. That is where I was when a massive earthquake struck the southeast of the country in the early hours of 6 February 2023.
Married to a humanitarian aid worker, I'm used to us being apart while he travels around the world, wherever he is needed most. I'm always proud of him and I stay behind with prayers and my phone, regularly checking the regional or international news, depending on where he is, to make sure he's safe.
Dozens of messages, missed calls and notifications
On the night of 5 February, we were at home. He had recently returned from Afghanistan. I asked him to mute his phone to get a well-deserved rest, and surprisingly he did. But that would be the first and last time he would do so for a while.
When we woke the next day at around six o’clock, he jumped out of bed. There were dozens of messages, missed calls and notifications on his mobile. An earthquake with a magnitude of more than seven had rocked parts of Türkiye. He rushed to the bathroom to get ready and pack his bag.
I was angry and panicked at the same time. He was not in a rescue team and it wasn't his responsibility to respond to an earthquake, right?
At that moment, I was angry and panicked at the same time. He was not in a rescue team and it wasn't his responsibility to respond to an earthquake, right? After all, this wasn't the first time we'd experienced earthquakes in Türkiye. We were used to them. But he told me that this one was big and that he needed to prepare his team for any response needed.
Looking back, I'm sure that hundreds of humanitarian workers did the same that day. We could never thank them enough. The response on the ground by everyone was huge. Many national and international NGOs, including Concern, governmental institutions and volunteers responded to the disaster on day one.
That was something I witnessed when I later went to live and work in Gaziantep and during my visits to other places where Concern was active.
'It felt like infinity'
My husband said he would be back in two or three days. In reality, he didn't return until three weeks later. And then, only to grab more clothes.
I said a short prayer, and still angry, thinking that he was unnecessarily panicking, I closed the door and went to the balcony to wave him goodbye. His team arrived to pick him up in a van packed with stuff. That's when I felt anxious because it was a type of vehicle they didn't normally use.
After he left for Hatay, it felt like infinity, and, for the first time in my life, I was worried about his physical well-being.
When you face a situation that's out of the ordinary, you don't think straight. Realisation comes much later. At least, that was the case for me
When I turned on the TV, at first it was news about the magnitude of the earthquake. A short time later, images of the destruction started and never ended.
I called my in-laws who live in the region. They told me that they had spent the night in their car because they were fearful - but thankful to have survived unharmed. It was at that point that I knew that something big had happened.
When you face a situation that's out of the ordinary, you don't think straight. Realisation comes much later. At least, that was the case for me.
I remember watching the rescue footage and reporters providing news updates 24/7, the ever-increasing death toll, texting my husband to check if he was OK, and trying not to contact him too often so as not to overwhelm the communication lines.
Never so close to knowing what evacuation is
On the second day, our national airline announced evacuation flights from the region. Evacuation...as if we were in a war. What is evacuation? I have never been so close to knowing what it is.
I called my in-laws and told them to get on one of the flights and come to Istanbul. They could not spend another night in their car, that was for sure.
They brought their cat, Latif, with them and arrived safely. My father-in-law is a governmental official. He did not leave the city because he was distributing hot soup and tea to those affected in a temporary shelter close to his office.
I was worried about his mental health but it seemed like he was as strong as a rock
With my in-laws and their cat at home, watching the news day and night, and constantly worrying about my husband, I saw an image of a body wrapped in a blanket being taken out of the rubble. My husband was the one who was carrying the person who had died.
I was worried about his mental health but it seemed like he was as strong as a rock.
What amazing work the humanitarian workers did during that time. So selfless and tirelessly working to save lives and help those who survived. I was inspired by their willpower, and the impact they were making on those affected in the region.
'The best decision I made'
That is when I decided to join them. As a communications professional, I applied to work for Concern. It would be an honour for me to help people in need and make their voices heard. It was a challenge to start during a disaster of such scale but that was what motivated me. I know that this was the best decision ever.
My colleague even lost his mother, sister and niece in the earthquake, but was still helping others. Maybe this helps him to heal. I will never know but I understand
When I joined, I moved to Gaziantep, which is a city in the earthquake region. Here, I have got to know the bravest people ever. My new colleagues have been on the ground since the first day. One of them even lost his mother, sister and niece in the earthquake, but was still helping others. Maybe this helps him to heal. I will never know but I understand.
I have met our team in Adıyaman six times. They are all amazing and are like family. Half of them are earthquake survivors themselves. They are selfless, living in a pre-fabricated container for almost a year. They have kept up with the good mood and the good work.
It's the same for my colleagues in Hatay, Malatya and Şanlıurfa. They are all amazing professionals and pure souls.
It was touching and inspiring to hear the villagers say that Concern was the first to help and that we paved the way for others to come
I have visited families and individuals to talk about their experiences and learn about the impact of our support. I have written their stories and documented the situation to share with others, to raise awareness and to make support available to those affected. I can certainly say that our team approached them kindly and that they still remember them today.
I travelled to a rural area, a village in the mountains that is 50 kilometres away from the city. It was touching and inspiring to hear the villagers say that Concern was the first to help and that we paved the way for others to come. It is always motivating to see and hear about the impact that Concern has in the region. And that is only one example.
Never more satisfied
I think I have never felt more satisfied with my work than with Concern.
The past five months have taught me exactly how unique humanitarian assistance is, and how much of an impact it has on people’s lives.
We, as Concern, and that includes me, will continue to support the people of Türkiye and Syria until their needs are met, and hope that others will continue to support them too
Thanks to Concern and all our supporters, it was possible to reach around 380,000 people in Türkiye and northwest Syria.
We have provided families living in freezing temperatures with blankets and heaters, kitchen kits for those who had lost everything, toilets and showers for people in temporary shelters, much-needed food items for those without an income, shelter for families who were left homeless, mattresses, cash support, legal assistance and, most importantly, psychosocial support for young and old.
We, as Concern, and that includes me, will continue to support the people of Türkiye and Syria until their needs are met, and hope that others will continue to support them too.
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