In the weeks following a deadly earthquake in Turkey, the Tufts Students of Turkey club has organized several fundraising events, including a bake sale and a supply drive, to support victims of the disaster. So far, the club has raised more than $16,000 for survivors.
The violent earthquakes which struck the Kahramanmaras region in southern Turkey and northwest Syria on Feb 6. have claimed the lives of more than 40,000 people. Nur Akpolat, co-president of Tufts Students of Turkey, expressed how the earthquakes affected her and other members of the Turkish community at Tufts.
“I was never impacted by a natural crisis this much before,” Akpolat, a senior, said. “Luckily, my family and all of our family friends were safe and well, but that did little to relieve me because I know that there were so many people suffering there.”
Eda Devletsah, who serves as the club’s other co-president, felt similarly.
“What’s most upsetting is that it’s still our home, and being away from our home [and] the tragedy but also staying here and knowing that we have the power to do something has affected everyone emotionally,” Devletsah said. “Constantly being reminded of [the death toll] on social media, knowing how much people are suffering … it’s been pretty emotionally challenging for all of us.”
After students on campus began discussing how to help the people of Turkey, Akpolat said she started working with others to organize fundraisers.
“We sort of had that collective response of … [wanting] to help what was going on in any way that we can,” Akpolat said. “That Monday afternoon we directly organized this meeting with almost everybody … brainstorming about how we can start fundraising and how we can shape the activities that we were going to do, so it was sort of an immediate craving for community.”
The club began with a supply drive and a fundraiser.
“Over the weekend, we took our supplies to the Turkish consulate that’s collecting them and packing them,” Devletsah said. “Our members volunteered at the consulate over the weekend, packing boxes and donations, sorting through clothes and all of those items. … They all get shipped out and flown out to disaster zones in Turkey.”
Asked how the club was able to raise so much money, Devletsah attributed part of their success to community members beyond just the student body.
“We were able to tap into a lot of our alumni resources or connections that we knew that had relations to Turkey to raise that much money, and then they were matched by an anonymous donor for our donations,” Devletsah said. “The Alumni Association has also done some fundraising, like Turkish alumni themselves.”
Defne Ulusoy, an exchange student from Istanbul and member of Tufts Students of Turkey, expressed gratitude for the community’s response.
“When you’re actively asking for help and explaining the situation, then they become aware and they help, and they are not shying away from helping,” Ulusoy said.
Devletsah agreed with Ulusoy.
“I’ve honestly been a little bit surprised by the generosity that students have been able to give,” Devletsah said. “I think it’s just a matter of reaching those people that maybe aren’t in our immediate connection that we might have needed a little bit more help with.”
When asked about Tufts administration’s response, the club members recognized how it was supportive to them as a group but also expressed disappointment at a lack of a greater acknowledgement.
“I think something that I wish they would have done is acknowledging what was happening immediately,” Akpolat said. “For example, the International Center sent out an email to all of the students from Turkey [on] Monday morning first thing … and [they said] ‘if you need our help in any way, we are here for you.’”
After reaching out to the dean of student affairs, members of Tufts Students of Turkey were interviewed for an article on Tufts Now.
“[The article] in a way helped us get the word out regarding what we’re doing,” Devletsah said. “But I think I would have liked to see some sort of administrative email or an announcement that recognized the events and provided help or condolences or resources to students who might have been affected by it.”
While the club has concluded fundraising for the foreseeable future, Ulusoy said there is still much work to be done for relief efforts.
“They’re gonna need help in a sustained way for much longer because of the destruction. … You need to rebuild those places [for] those people who have lost everything,” Ulusoy said. “It’s going to [take] a year, a year and a half, two years, maybe even more for those people to just get back on track, get back to living their life.”
Devletsah said that if people are curious about how to help, they should reach out to Tufts Students of Turkey by emailing email@example.com.