Students and alumni with connections to Turkey and Syria have been focused on relief efforts. Now they are calling on Americans to do more
It was the night of Sunday, February 5, when Nur Akpolat, A23, first heard about the earthquakes that hit Turkey and Syria. Akpolat, who grew up in Turkey and calls Istanbul home, quickly learned that her friends and family were safe. But the next day, as the news reports began revealing the extent of the tragedy—thousands of buildings collapsed, tens of thousands of people killed—she became desperate to help. And she was not alone.
She and other members of Students of Turkey, a Tufts group, began texting each other with the same message: “We should do something. We have the resources. We need to utilize those resources.’”
More than 40 Turkish citizens are students at Tufts, and hundreds more are alumni. Many of them have been working to support relief efforts for the past week, whether it’s helping to ship supplies, holding bakes sales, or launching fundraisers on social media.
Among its membership alone, Students of Turkey was able to raise more than $8,200 dollars last week, an amount that was matched by an anonymous donor for a total of more than $16,500.
“We’re a club, but we’re also friends, a community,” said Eda Devletsah, A23, who, with Akpolat, is a co-president of the group. “And so we’ve been able to lean on each other. And we all felt that sense of urgency. That really helped us mobilize quickly.”
Over the weekend, Akpolat, Devletsah, and other members of the group also took shifts at the Turkish consulate in Boston, where volunteers have been organizing and packing shipments of supplies to the affected regions. There, they have worked side-by-side with Turkish students from schools around New England to pack blankets, heaters, tents, sleeping bags, and other necessities. “There is a sense of racing against time,” Akpolat said.
Devletsah said that working with others at the consulate helped her process the tragedy and her frustration at being so far from home at this time. “And I think it also goes to show how strong communities of minorities can be during times of hardship,” she said.
Now, as the death toll in Turkey and Syria has reached 41,000, Students of Turkey members are reaching out to the broader Tufts community. They have set up a donation table in the Mayer Campus Center, where they have raised more than $760 so far, and on Thursday, February 16, they will hold a bake sale there. While they are still accepting donations of supplies, they are focused on monetary donations, which are most needed.
And they are calling on Americans to step up. Devletsah said that the earthquakes, which the WHO has called the region’s worst natural disaster in a century, do not seem to have reached the collective consciousness the way the war in Ukraine or even the burning of Notre Dame Cathedral did. “Why aren’t we getting that same response in Turkey?” Devletsah asked.
Helin Alagoz, a master’s in innovation and management student at Tufts Gordon Institute, said she is disappointed that a tragedy of this size has not gotten more attention from the media and those around her. “I’ve begun to talk to people to raise awareness in my community and help them understand the magnitude of the earthquake,” she said. She has also started a GoFundMe page.
Her mother is from Diyarbakir, one of the cities in southern Turkey that was severely damaged by the earthquake, and which Alagoz visited many times as a child. She noted that more than seven million children have been affected by the disaster.
“Those who survived now need our help more than ever,” she said. “This is going to be a long process.”
At Tufts University School of Dental Medicine, members of the Middle Eastern Dental Society had already organized a Valentine’s Day Rose Sale for February 14. After the earthquakes, they decided that the proceeds of the flower sale would benefit the victims in Turkey and Syria.
“We wanted our existing efforts to spread love in our community to also go to a great cause,” said Liana Froyan, D24, president of the society and a Middle Eastern American with family in Aleppo. “We are incredibly grateful to be a part of such a supportive community here at the dental school and hope that our small contribution yields aid to those in need during this tragedy.”
At the Fletcher School, five students with connections to Turkey and Syria quickly came together to organize a bake sale last week, where they sold foods and drinks donated by local restaurant Dolma Mediterranean Cuisine. Fatma Siddique, F23, said they were thrilled with the turnout. “Not one cookie was leftover,” she said. They collected $5800, some of which is eligible for a matching donation at the charities they are targeting.
People came to eat and to donate, but also to ask how else they could help. “It was heartwarming to have that support from our community,” said Eda Kosma, F23.
Nezihe Fazilet, F23, said that many people had wanted to donate but weren’t sure which charities would share funds most directly with Turkey and Syria. They were happy to be pointed to good options, some of which are listed below.
Tufts alumni, too, have been drumming up support for relief efforts. Hande Guven, A18, who grew up in Turkey and now lives in New York City, is one of them. “Friends I know from home, they have all been affected,” she said. “Many people have lost family members.”
She has been in touch with her Turkish classmates from Tufts as well as several of her high school classmates who attended college in the United States and now live in different U.S. cities. They have been reaching out, sharing links to charities and benefit events (including this upcoming concert in NYC), and asking for help.
“We’ve been trying to spread the word, both in our workplaces and in our social circles,” she said.
Any donation amount is welcome. “Money that you can contribute—even if it’s $5, $10—will actually be helping a lot,” especially because the U.S. dollar is currently strong against the Turkish lira, she said. “Five dollars will get you a dozen loaves of bread.”
Support, and Where to Donate
The Tufts International Center has published a web page with a developing list of donation sites as well as services for students, scholars, faculty, and staff who have been impacted by the earthquakes. “Whether you have family and friends in the affected areas or are simply coping with the staggering loss and extreme challenges these countries are now facing, please know we are here to offer support and guidance,” the center notes.
Here are some relief organizations recommended by the students and alumni quoted in the story:
- AFAD is the government-affiliated disaster management campaign.
- AHBAP is an NGO in Turkey providing financial and social aid.
- AKUT is a volunteer non-governmental search and rescue organization registered in Turkey.
- Bridge to Türkiye Fund was created to help underserved youth in Turkey. It is tax exempt in the United States.
- Molham Volunteering Team was founded to aid internally displaced and refugee Syrians in northern Syria and neighboring countries.
- OXFAM is an international organization working in the affected region.
- Turkish Philanthropy Funds provides emergency relief and supports front-line workers. It is registered in the United States, where it is tax exempt.
- White Helmets is working in Turkey and Syria.