Working with the Association of Turkish Alumni and Students in Scotland, the University’s Turkish society has sent over 26 tons of donations to areas stricken by the earthquake.
A group of Turkish students at the University of Glasgow have opened their home as a collection point for aid items to be sent to Turkey, following the earthquake which devastated the country and neighbouring Syria in early February. Arda Gyunesh spoke to The Glasgow Guardian about how UofG’s Turkish society has mobilised and supported one another during this time of need.
At the time of writing, the earthquake’s death toll across Turkey and Syria stands at over 46,000 fatalities. Around 264,000 apartments in Turkey have been destroyed, with many people remaining missing.
Arda describes being woken up to be told the news by his flatmates on the morning of 6 February, before turning on the news in disbelief: “Just seeing the images shared on the news was heart wrenching. The worst feeling is when you are so far away you can only do so much, you feel so helpless and useless. I was in utter shock as every hour the death toll was rising by thousands.”
It took just a couple of days to rally the University’s Turkish community together and help coordinate an effective response. After reaching out to the Association of Turkish Alumni and Students in Scotland (ATAS), a relatively new organisation connecting and supporting Turkish people carrying out their education in Scotland, Arda discovered they were looking for collection points to be set up in Glasgow and a partnership was born. ATAS organised collections around Scotland, after announcing the launch of its appeal outside the Scottish Parliament building. £3.2m was raised within 24 hours, with the figure for the wider British network of Turkish students reaching £32.9m in that first day.
Arda’s flat became a hub for people to donate essentials such as clothes, blankets, food and baby items. “The traffic in my area increased significantly which I found to be amusing as normally it is a quiet neighbourhood,” Arda commented, as they reflected on the experience of having people flocking to their flat with bags filled to the brim with supplies. Acquaintances from the University showed up to the door unannounced, not only with donations but to help package them up and organise them.
The relief project became something of a full time job for Arda and their flatmates, with trips running back and forward to supermarkets to source more cardboard boxes: “I was exhausted but didn’t want to rest as time was of the essence as the sooner these items reached turkey the better as in Turkey people were sleeping in cars and some in tents without heating in nothing but their pyjamas.” Similar projects have been popping up across Glasgow to respond to Turkey and Syria’s natural disaster. One of these was Est-Ethics Private GP, near Arda’s flat, which started attracting more donors.
Arda also told The Glasgow Guardian of the toll events have taken on their studies, not just emotionally, having family living in Turkey, but also in terms of the time they have committed to providing support. “I have had to put my university work on hold and my teachers were very understanding thankfully, but I know that eventually I will have to go back to university and my workload will be twice as much, which creates a certain level of pressure and stress in my everyday life. However I am adamant the relief work I have to do takes priority as I know people’s lives are still in danger when they are in minus temperatures without the essential items to survive.”
The response in Glasgow has been described by Arda as “unbelievable”. However, their thoughts drift rather to what will be happening on the ground in Turkey itself: “I know that these people will now be jobless, homeless and will need help financially over the next few years as they try to rebuild their lives. Although it will never be the same, and the pain of losing loved ones will never be easy, we need humanity to show its kindness and support each other in these times of crisis.”
Despite the awful situation, Arda says the experience has proven that “people really do make Glasgow.” They continued: “Although under such horrific circumstances, I have never been so proud to say that I live in Glasgow as I have never seen so many people pull together, show kindness and support each other. We have now sent over 26 tons of essential items to Turkey just from Glasgow. There are not enough words to describe how grateful the Turkish Community is.”
The University of Glasgow organised a vigil in the cloister to come together as a community and express solidarity with the people of Turkey and Syria. According to its website, the University has made direct contact with Turkish and Syrian students to offer extended support, such as financial aid from the hardship fund and counselling. Affected staff have also been targeted for support. The Students Representative Council (SRC) has equally pointed anyone affected to these resources.
The University said: “The devastating earthquake that struck Turkey and Syria has deeply shocked and saddened us all. We recognise that many within our community will be directly affected by this tragedy, and we will do everything that we can to provide support during this difficult time.”