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June 26, 2023

Reflections from Turkey: Kai’s Blog


Two men on top of a hill overlooking a turkish city, with hundreds of homes made from shipping containers in the foreground

By Kai Hopkins, Head of Humanitarian Programmes

Since the devastating Turkey-Syria Earthquakes on February 6th which displaced over 3 million people and killed 52,000, we have been responding to needs through our local partner the International Blue Crescent (IBC). Read reflections from our Head of Humanitarian Programmes after a visit to Turkey earlier this month.

Shielding my eyes from the glare of the powerful midday sun, I look across the valley, assessing what has changed since I last stood here.

It has been exactly three months. And for those around me, it has been three long and exhausting months. Döne, standing beside me, summarises them as the worst period of her long and eventful life. For her and her husband, everything they had known ended when the powerful earthquake hit in late February. Three months on, three months in which so much has happened, very little for Döne and others in southern Turkey has actually changed.

Turkish woman facing camera

It’s not that nothing is different. A lot of the debris that had laid where it fell has been neatly piled, kicking up dust as the wind whips around, and a few more of the buildings that had still been standing have now been pulled down. But for each one gone, five remain – standing at awkward angles, zigzagged by jagged scars that cannot heal. Like the people camping out in their shadows in make-shift tent villages, they wait patiently.

When I was here in March these imposing reminders of the earthquake’s damage displayed the scattered remains of a life disturbed. Now they are virtually empty, devoid of any signs that they were ever homes. They have been reduced to mere bricks and mortar and will soon be reduced to rubble.

In much the same way as the physical and tangible, the sentiments on the ground have changed very little. Yes, the feelings of disbelief and anger that was so palpable in March has slowly given way to a quiet acceptance, but people still feel scared, confused and quite simply lost. The recent election brought with it hopes and promises but as a new era in Turkey’s political landscape begins, the challenges ahead remain sadly familiar. It is however, a challenge that people are braced for, and while the fear and uncertainty pervades every discussion, a conviction and determination to rebuild their lives cuts through. Döne tells me she has been fighting cancer for the best part of a decade, while she doesn’t know how exactly, she knows she will come through this too.

Two men on top of a hill overlooking a turkish city, with hundreds of homes made from shipping containers in the foreground

As I scan the horizon, however, there is one obvious difference from three months ago. Last time I was here I was standing in the middle of an empty field. Now, I am standing overlooking a new camp – complete with 400 sturdy prefabricated shelters – each with running water and electricity – a community centre, a playground, a school, and a fully functioning kitchen.

As soon as it became clear that the road to recovery would take years, and thanks to the generous support of World Jewish Relief’s donors, we began work on this camp with our long-term partners, the International Blue Crescent and the Joint Distribution Committee. It sits in the heart of Hatay province, one of the worst affected by the earthquake, and it is here that Döne and her husband will now be living.

Man and two women looking over two large pots of food cooking over an open flame in a temporary kitchen Woman and two men looking over two large pots of food cooking over an open flame in a temporary kitchen

This camp does not make all the challenges disappear. It cannot do that. Nothing could. But it does give people like Döne the safety from which they can begin to rebuild their lives. Only now are people able to think about the future, and I hope that doing so in this camp will make that future feel more immediate and attainable. As Döne says to me:

“We are an old couple, and we just want to be happy.”