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Red Deerians want to help friends, relatives in earthquake ravaged Syria and Turkiye

A fundraiser will be started later this week on GoFundMe
Red Deerians Shirin Jawish (left) and Ezgi Sarioglu plan to start a GoFundMe fundraiser to help people in their earthquake-ravaged homelands of Syria and Turkiye. (Photo by Lana Michelin/Advocate)

The catastrophic devastation of a massive earthquake in Turkiye and Syria became a personal horror for two Red Deer residents, whose relatives have lost friends, homes and belongings.

“There is so much pain in my heart… We cannot express our pain,” said Shirin Jawish, translation and interpretation co-ordinator for Care For Newcomers, who arrived in Alberta from Syria five years ago.

While Jawish’s Kurdish relatives in north Syria have survived the quake, she heard a close family friend, who lives in Genderas, just a 15-minute drive from her hometown of Sinko-Afrin, lost five family members, including children and parents.

Jawish was told people are hearing their buried loved ones calling from under rubble, but can’t get to them. As one rescue team made progress uncovering survivors of a crumbled building, another nearby building came down, said Jawish.

She admits to feeling a terrible sense of helplessness, being so far away.

The same anxiety is gripping her co-workers, Ezgi Sarioglu, community engagement manager at Care for Newcomers, who came to Canada from Turkiye a decade ago.

Both Red Deerians are in close phone contact with family members, who remain frightened and shaken after the catastrophic earthquake struck their homelands early Monday, killing more than 7,000 people.

Heavy aftershocks were still being felt on Tuesday, said Sarioglu, whose brother was almost knocked off his feet by the initial quake.

A landmark castle at the centre of Sarioglu’s hometown of Gaziantep, which withstood many wars and centuries of weather, totally collapsed: “It feels unbelievable to think of the castle being gone.”

Sarioglu’s father recounted by phone how a quarter of the water from his backyard swimming pool rose like a tidal wave and splash down on his yard when the 7.9 magnitude earthquake happened in his community of Gaziantep, which was at the epicentre.

At the same time, a chandelier hanging at an aunt’s house swung so hard it smashed against the ceiling.

School children in Turkiye learn earthquake safety because they are not uncommon in that region “but we have never seen anything like this,” said Sarioglu. “Usually aftershocks are mild. But there is constant shaking of my parents’ house.”

Sarioglu’s mom and dad have taken in 20 assorted relatives to their home, who can’t return to their own apartments because the high rises were declared unsafe. “Some people are staying in mosques. Millions of people are living in their cars,” said Sarioglu.

Jawish feels gutted by news reports of old women and children trying to take shelter in the cold rain under trees because they have nowhere else to go. She noted the weather in that region has been unusually cold, compounding people’s suffering. As well, natural gas pipelines have ruptured leaving many without heat, cooking stoves or electricity.

Sarioglu has no relatives living in Canada and is very worried. “I still don’t know if (family members in Turkiye) will be safe.” While people in Turkiye and Syria are living in terrible circumstances, they can at least share their anxiety and fears with others who understand, they added.

“Here, it is always top of your mind,” but you have to return to work feeling helpless and isolated, explained Sarioglu, who considered returning to Turkiye to help, but realized it would only add to the strain since there is nowhere to stay.

The two Red Deerians are gratified that doctors, nurses and humanitarian organizations from all over the world are volunteering to help the earthquake victims.

Both of the local residents plan to do what they can — which is jointly starting a GoFundMe fundraiser to assist residents from this ravaged region. Anyone who wants to help these people rebuild can seek out their fundraising page, ‘Turkiye, Syria Earthquake’ on GoFundMe later this week.

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Lana Michelin

About the Author: Lana Michelin

Lana Michelin has been a reporter for the Red Deer Advocate since moving to the city in 1991.
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