As news of the deadly 7.8 and 7.6 magnitude earthquakes that devastated parts of Turkey and Syria early in the morning on Feb. 6 broke, three undergraduate students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison took it upon themselves to assist in humanitarian efforts.
Idil Dokucu and Yoel Nasi Kazado first contacted International Student Services at the university to find out how they could help, and from there became connected with the Madison Association of Turkish Students (MATS) and fellow student Lara Nur Akdol.
MATS told the students they were accepting items and supplies to be sent to the Turkish Consulate General in Chicago, but the students shared they felt the need to do something different — raise money in addition to the donations.
Their efforts have been successful so far, with $11,266 raised as of Wednesday evening, according to the fundraising website.
“It just sucks, like overall, not being home right now because I think we feel like we could be doing a lot more if we were at home,” explained Dokucu.
Students shared how constant exposure to news and information about the earthquakes has taken a toll on them.
“It has taken a very big toll on my mental health, just because of the overwhelming amount of information, videos, photographs that I’ve seen on social media,” said Akdol. “You really can’t escape it — you try to distract yourself on your phone, you see it, when you’re sitting at the Union, you see it on the news … it’s kind of inescapable. Like Idil said, I feel like I could do more, but I can’t.”
As of Wednesday evening, combined deaths from the earthquakes in Syria and Turkey exceeded 40,000, according to Al Jazeera. Expectations of finding survivors under rubble are growing slimmer with the passage of time, and road and infrastructure damage made rescue efforts more difficult, according to reporting from the Associated Press.
Dr. Deniz Balgamis, academic program manager for the Kemal H. Karpat Center for Turkish Studies at UW-Madison, acknowledged that “the quakes have affected all of us personally,” and many people have family and friends in affected areas.
Balgamis opened her own home to store donations prior to them being sent to the embassy — Fatih Kunkul, a MATS member and PhD candidate, delivered the first round of donations on Feb. 8 to the Chicago Turkish Consulate General. Total donations in-kind amounted to 4,000 items at this article’s writing, Balgamis said.
“My personal hope is to continue our solidarity in trying to get back, even if slowly, to our regular lives,” Balgamis said. “This is a tragedy that will never be forgotten by any of us. But we should keep hugging each other and keep working the best we can to help [reach] those in the area — now more with financial and medical outreach.”
“Turkish people are resilient people,” Balgamis added. “We are holding our hopes and hanging in there."
Kazado said the larger Madison community is working together “tirelessly” to provide aid and support. “I feel like people are doing this as a sort of therapy as well, because it keeps their mind off it,” he said.
Juggling academic and organization work has been difficult, the students explained. Though most professors have been understanding, some maintain deadlines that must be met.
“Because there isn’t any campus-wide awareness and acknowledgement of this, they’re having some misunderstandings and conflict,” Kazado said, acknowledging that most professors want to provide help.
Barry Gerhart, interim vice provost and dean of UW-Madison’s international division, later sent out a campus-wide email encouraging instructors and supervisors to “exercise sensitivity, understanding and flexibility toward students, faculty and staff who are affected by this crisis.”
Dokucu explained that most of MATS’ member base are doctoral students, often busy working as teaching assistants or doing research, and estimated there are only around 15 undergraduate students in the organization.
“But for [the doctoral students], once they’re done with their graduate research or TA-ing, they’re always at someone’s house, packing up clothes and donations down to Chicago to the consulate,” Akdol explained.
One positive thing that came out of the tragedy was the Turkish community becoming closer, Akdol said, noting her family and friends back home echoed the same sentiment.
“In the wake of tragedies, we have to come together and figure out any way that we can help,” Akdol said.
Kazado said those looking to help have a variety of options, including donating money or supplies, sharing MATS’ drives on their socials and packaging or delivering supplies.
Akdol highlighted the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team as an option for those with time or resource constraints. The tool uses map data which allows online volunteers to identify buildings, roads and other sites of interest that may be destroyed or intact in the aftermath. This will help with on-the-ground search-and-rescue efforts by providing information for humanitarian teams, Akdol explained.
The Madison Association of Turkish Students is currently collecting donations. Priority items change daily, with up-to-date lists being found on MATS’ Instagram. A monetary donation page is available online.